Environment by Design: January 2018
Vol 42, No 1 (2018)
Design for Real People
Good Design Is a Public Good
If you asked 100 random people or even 100 designers, “What is design?” you would get approximately that many different answers. In the most positive sense, this explains the pervasiveness of designers working in and touching every imaginable aspect of our lives. Beyond built structures, the products we rely on day in and day out, the services we use as members of society, are all designed.
We designers have long stumbled over how to capture this reality—that design is so pervasive and people have so many perceptions of it (if it is even in their consciousness). This has especially been the case for those of us who are trying to expand design’s reach beyond its traditional, elite client base. In the past few decades we’ve struggled with nomenclature: What to call this growing field of practice that focuses on engaging entirely new communities and populations?
Embracing the Paradox of Planning for Informality
Planners and urban designers often face an uncomfortable paradox: People tend to prefer neighborhoods that developed organically with the contributions of many over those that were master-planned by a small group of experts. City makers love to use terms like organic, spontaneous and authentic, but tend to plan and design areas that limit these very qualities. We faced this paradox in a very explicit way when Gehl, where we work as urban designers, was invited by the government of Buenos Aires to provide design advice for an ambitious plan led by the city’s Secretary of Social and Urban Inclusion to redevelop the Argentine capital’s most iconic resident-built informal settlement. The plan was to turn Villa 31 — villa is Argentinian slang for slum — into a neighborhood, a barrio.
Every Designer Should See the Smithsonian’s Illuminating Exhibit on Accessibility
It’s only a matter of time until all of us experience some form of physical disability. From needing corrective eye glasses to requiring a cane to move around, we all will rely on assistive technology as we age, if we don’t already.
But until recently, designers have primarily had the able-bodied user in mind when creating products. Most products for aging adults and people with disabilities have been clunky, depressingly clinical, and cobbledv together with a “good enough is good enough” design standard.