You may remember the first of a series of webcasts in which FreeState partner with The Urban Developer to discuss experience design in the world of the developer. Tapping into panellists Rory Martin (Frasers) and Pino Demaio (Local Peoples)’s experience, it looked at how experience design can create value for all. I’ve already shared the meat of the discussion, and want to focus today on gems that may have popped out of the fat of the Q & A session that followed. Let’s dive in.
The connected community all at once
Martin had talked at some length about the connected community. He was asked whether it was possible to create such a community ‘all at once’, avoiding the more clunky multi-staged, masterplanned community-making of which developers are more than familiar. It is, he says, one of Frasers’s biggest challenges, which is why they employ Community Development Managers, professionals tasked solely with ‘creating opportunities for congregation.’ These opportunities begin well before ‘everyone collects their keys’, and ought to take place alongside strategies designed to share the development’s story. Every touchpoint, adds Demaio, is important for the development of a picture of that story or brand and, therefore, of what the developer stands for. These touchpoints – curated get-togethers, the community engagement processes, how builders interact with host communities – are vital to creating the connected community, seemingly all at once.
The retail model that really works
While his work is much more about the residential side of the business, Martin’s thoughts on examples of retail developments that really work, that endure, and that give people a sense of belonging, are pertinent. Convenient, relevant and connected, it’s got, he says, ‘to go beyond the transactional.’ You may buy something, but you also stay for something else. This may be the opportunity to work, have some downtime, or meet with friends and family, opportunities programmed into the culture of the retail environment. As example, he cites Central Park Sydney, which is all of the above and more. Another of our webcast audience champions Boxpark and Appear Here, both of which make provision for flexible, short-term lease agreements, encouraging vibrancy, experimentation and flow.
The art of getting the right data
So much of what goes right in this or that development comes from knowing your audience, which is why a member of our own audience asked the thorny question as to how to fairly attract the right kind of category of user for a given development. Gathering input data, says Demaio, is something of an art. It’s necessary, but needs to be carefully managed. While ‘you can’t design by committee’, prospective users must be allowed to contribute to the development’s design and programme. Surveys, long lead-ins and rewards for engagement are all factors that made the 122 Roseneath St development such a success. It’s combining, to paraphrase Demaio, the quality of the design stewardship of the development with a strategy that consistently creates the opportunity for meaningful user input.
Squaring sustainability with profitability
It’s often thought that the costs of making truly sustainable mixed-use developments negatively impact on profit. For Martin, the key here is not ‘cost’ per se, but concepts of ‘value’. So, rather than look at what a new technology does (and, presumably, the costs of its implementation), better to look to how it improves the lives of its prospective users. As example, he points to the introduction of the master electrical switch in the home, a feature that, as well as save energy, is just bloody convenient, so much so as to make conversations as to whether or not to have one on the basis of cost redundant. Here sustainability is couched as a lifestyle choice, the conversation framed as value-driven as opposed to cost-driven. Seen so, profits tend, I would add, to look after themselves.
Setting standards in retail development
Personally, I was interested to learn from the panel as to where retail developers stand today in terms of their designs’ beginning (as the architect Jan Gehl might say) with life, before moving on to space, and finally the actual building. My gut tells me that experience design is not a front of centre driver for the majority, and that the lag could be as much as a generation. Lovely, then, to hear that my gut is a tad out of tune. Adam DiMarco of The Urban Developer reckoned that 10% of developers are leading the way, 50% on par, and the remainder a bunch of laggards (my words, not his). Meanwhile, both Martins and Demaio avoid mathematics altogether, preferring to highlight great practice, while at the same time saying there’s room for raising the bar further.
On which giant note, I’d just like to thank both webcast panel and audience for a most fascinating discussion, to apologise for the unfeasible length of this here post, and to ask that you kindly keep your eyes peeled for the next webcast, episode 2, title and content still TBD.