Urban design magazine

Public spaces

The role of the designer in the city

Sketch for Osmose bus shelter project in Paris
Sketch for the experimental Osmose bus shelter in Paris

Who and what are designers? Creators who love form? Heros of stylisation? Outsiders offering a new vision on a multitude of everyday objects?

After all, doesn’t the original Latin term ‘designare’ mean ‘the path towards’? Against a backdrop of economic crisis, wouldn’t society and companies do well to integrate this innovative vision to help adapt our cities to current changes?

The position of the designer: analytical rather than stylistic

In the creative process many different positions are possible. When creating street furniture, the designer often produces objects intended for serial production.

The first step for a designer is to question the object or space according to the demands of the client and user expectations. It involves both introspection and analysis. Form is important, but it come only as a result of this reflection, which places users and the services provided at its heart. A purely stylist and formal approach makes little sense.

Sketch for Châtillon Viroflay tramway project

Sketch for the tramway stops, Châtillon Viroflay, Paris

The creative process: asking questions guided by culture

How can we look differently at objects and the city when society and our environment encourage conformity? The designer must cultivate new ways of looking in order to remain open to difference by constantly questioning existing designs.

However, entering into this role is not enough. The basis of any design approach is a solid understanding of art, history and sociology. Placing themselves between the past, present and future, designers adapt and transform objects or places with a transversal vision.

The final stage is without doubt the confrontation between this creative process and the real world of production. It is essential to toughen this vision to withstand the constraints of the industry.

The responsibility of the designer: questioning the production of objects

We are surrounded by thousands of objects. Today, it is the designer’s responsibility to ask the question ‘why create an umpteenth object and how can I make it relevant?’ This questioning applies to all stages of production: form, materials, usage, function and even production tools. For example, why are the same materials always used to make street furniture? Several years ago, this question led us to explore the use of ceramics in street furniture in collaboration with CRAFT Limoges and the European Ceramic Cluster.

Sketch for street furniture project in Tripoli

Sketch for ceramic street furniture in Tripoli

Beyond marketing: developing a design culture in companies

How can we make companies more innovative? By developing a design culture – this is what we do every day with our industrial partners. Despite the difficult economic context, those who take a risk and invest see the long-term economic advantages.  

Street furniture companies need to think in terms of research and innovation. A company can allocate a yearly budget for this, yet it is more difficult to understand what is at stake. In order to adopt this kind of approach, it is important to ask the right questions regarding the company and its market. The aim is to develop or consolidate the company philosophy to achieve greater coherence across collections.  

Stakes in cities: providing alternatives to the car

Today, the main challenge for local authorities is to reduce the importance of cars in the city. And, consequently, to develop ‘soft’ transport such as trams, bikes and buses. Today, pedestrians are reclaiming public spaces. What criteria do users employ to evaluate public spaces? Quality, comfort, security and conviviality.

If we really want to reduce car usage in the city, public transport needs to provide high quality services and make users feel comfortable. For example, in the French city of Metz the centre is connected to the outskirts by a high level bus service (BHNS), which offers a pleasant way to travel adapted to the needs of the majority of the population. In the French city of Nantes, the decision to pedestrianise the centre encouraged local authorities to develop transport links using trams, bikes (Bicloo) and BHNS bus services.

Image of High Level Bus Service (BNHS) stop in Metz

Bus stops for the High Level Bus Service (BNHS) in Metz

The role of the urban designer in a new pedestrian era  

We are in a new era where quality, comfort and kindness rule in the city. Designers must take into account the expectations of pedestrians who have re-appropriated public spaces. We need less aggressive sounds, smells and images than those often generated by cars. Yet, we will only abandon the car if the quality of public transport is high and we are offered new services to enhance our quality of life.

The role of designers is also to stop cities from being exclusively consumer spaces and shopping centres. Cities should be living spaces that encourage exchanges and encounters that are accessible to all.

What services would help improve the quality of our transport?

There are, of course, different ways of approaching the question of services. The Osmose bus stop revealed many user expectations in terms of information about city, local area and transport, as well as offering innovative services such as libraries, café kiosks, electric bikes etc.

Another factor to take into account is the growing importance of new technologies that have had an enormous impact on our daily lives. When travelling, they allow us to stop being passive and no longer we endure the time spent in transport, but rather to make a choice and be fully informed.

Each of us has different expectations regarding technology, but the importance of transport information (timetables, delays, incidents etc.) in helping us choose our mode of transport (metro, bus, bike etc.) has become essential.

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