The rise and rise of the empathic developer: creating value for all

I was lucky enough to chair the panel in a recent webcast How experience design creates value for everyone. It’s the first in a series in which FreeState partners with The Urban Developer to examine all things great and good in the world of experience design, with a particular focus on developers. We were joined by Frasers Property Australia’s Rory Martin, and by Pino Demaio, who you may remember as being the creative brain behind the marvellous 122 Roseneath development.

Given previous coverage of Demaio’s fine work, we focus here on Martin, self-confessed ‘recovering architect’ and Frasers’s Sustainability Manager, a position he tongue-in-cheek describes as either ‘troublemaker or translator’. If you did get a chance to listen to the webcast, you will be struck, like I was, by Martin’s ability to communicate. He speaks beautifully about beautiful things, and incredibly modestly. I limit us to just four of his many points, which hereby dub Martin’s Laws of Empathy.

1) Brand your project, properly
Developers aren’t best known for differentiating end-users on the basis of their wants and needs. Brand strategies for individual projects need to be developed on the basis of a genuine understanding of the target audience. One strategy does not fit all. Growth corridor end-users have very different needs to community’s buying into a city centre development. Get the strategy right and you will attract the right people.

2) Speak in plain English 
Frasers’s Burwood Brickworks mixed use development is rightly lauded for its sustainability accreditations. It includes an urban farm. It’s billed to include Australia’s first Living Building Challenge retail development. However, as Fraser implies, it’s not super-inundated by people wanting live here because it’s pimped green-speak at every opportunity. Rather, its long list of hopeful buyers is the result of Frasers having discovered that sustainability meaningfully translates as living healthier – be that quality of build, the amenities, or overall experience. The choice now between living or not living healthily, sustainability’s a shoo in.

3) Turn up, humbly
Martin tells the story of an insurance company calling meeting for a prospective development. Being the developer, Martin felt it only right and proper to attend, as one of the many community interests. The ‘only corporate in the room’, Frasers’s presence was duly noted and appreciated. While it reminds me of Argent’s Roger Madelin turning up to 353 meetings in preparation for Kings Cross Central, this is unusual developer behaviour, which is mighty unfortunate, given that this is exactly where relationships are formed, and future value banked.

4) Get connected
Healthy communities make for resilient places. However, communities aren’t born fully formed. Rather, they evolve, which presents developers of brand new places with something of a fundamental problem. How to create the sort of community that serves to future-proof the development. The answer, for Frasers, is simple: facilitate connection. Hold events. Design for ‘accidental connections’. Identify and work with emerging community leaders, who will naturally fill the vacuum left as the developer transitions out of project, which in itself is gradual and orderly, and takes place well after point of sale.

So, there you have it. Martin’s Laws of Empathy. There are plenty more, but you get the idea: take the time to know your customers. Do this and you design and develop the kinds of places where people love to live, work and play – for a long time.


Image Credit: Frasers Property Australia (Main Header Image and Featured Image)