Citylab is an annually recurring conference organised by the American company Bloomberg (led by the former mayor New York Michael Bloomberg) in cooperation with the media corporation The Atlantic, which also publishes the eponymous leading online magazine for urban development. Each year, the conference is held in a new city, with New York and London on the list of previous venues. This year, the event took place in Miami, Florida.
The Danish Design Centre had received a special invitation to the conference and contributed with a workshop titled ’Crash Course: How to use Danish-style design in city management’, where the Danish Design Centre’s Runa Sabroe, Christian Villum and Monica Moeskjær introduced a capacity audience of mayors, urban developers, architects and companies to the use of strategic design and design methods aimed at creating radically different and much more future-proof ways of developing tomorrow’s cities.
The 75-minute urban development crash course introduced the audience to the steps that make up a design-driven development process. To provide a real-life context, the crash course was based a specific case: an ongoing development project in Denmark, where the City of Odense works with two design agencies to develop a new concept for a key venue in the city: the community centre Borgernes Hus (The Citizens’ House), situated in extension of the city’s train station. The project rethinks this public building to embrace and welcome local citizens, companies, municipal services, a library and a volunteer centre as a central hub for the city.
Grasping the context
Step one in a design-driven urban development process is a research phase where design anthropologists document and map how people move through and experience the city. Naturally, the crash course format and time frame did not allow for field work. Instead, the participants worked with archetypes in the form of so-called personas. This technique offers an effective device for keeping a clear focus on the user angle and reminding the participants that their task is to develop solutions that match the individual needs of local residents and companies. The method translates in-depth and complex knowledge about the users into concrete solutions, conveyed in simple and comprehensible terms. The crash course participants were asked to pick one user type from a list we had defined ahead of time: a young family, a tourist, an elderly person, a young start-up company or the volunteer sector. We gave the participants the following assignment: pick the persona you find most interesting and design the building to meet their needs.
Generating new ideas
Each persona was described to represent a specific need to be met in order to make the building attractive to that particular user group. In addition, the personas led directly to the next step: idea generation.
Experimenting with new solutions
Next, the participants were to develop a concrete outline of the elements that the venue would need to contain in order to be attractive to the selected user group. This produced a number of desk-top versions of a prototype. The point of prototyping is to test potential future scenarios. This offers a quick way to achieve learning and develop the prospective solution in relation to the real-life usage situation. In this case, the participants’ prototypes were developed with the aid of a set of facilitating tools: a floor plan of the building, building blocks, persons, speech bubbles and icons on stickers; components that the participants were free to interpret and use as elements in their proposed solutions.