Plazas and digital places

I recently found the video The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces (1988) by William H. Whyte that I just have to share. The hour long movie is about what makes a successful plaza but I can see clear parallels with how we can create successful digital artefacts.

I and others such as Malin Ströman think a lot about how we can use concepts from architecture and city planning to create web sites and apps that feel personal and create a sense of community. Oh, not only concepts BTW, from architecture we also borrow many methods such as pattern languages, design studios and my misfits-method (Misfits are my best friends, Innovation is not important).

In the video a plethora of findings are revealed and some of the ones I think I and others can use when trying to enable digital placemaking are:

  • People looking at people is a foundation for a successful plaza.
  • People are mostly on plazas in pairs or groups of three.
  • Showing off ones (romantic) relationship is a thing to do on a plaza.
  • People sit where there are places to sit. (best quote ever, right!)
  • Capacity is self levelling.
  • People move chairs that are not bolted to the ground – sometimes despite movement having no physical effect on sitting quality. However, generally bolted down chairs are not  good – some movement affect sitting quality a lot!
  • Action on a plaza is along the street – the connection between the plaza and the street is of utmost importance because it encourages taking possession of the plaza but the plaza is also used, like a theater, from the street itself.
  • Plazas need to have an open connection to the street, not be fenced off with just a few entrances.
  • Plazas often have unique individuals and they can be very valuable.
  • A plaza need a mayor of sorts.
  • A “cave like” feeling is good, but a very airy cave :)
  • Food and other “light entertainment” is good because it gives people something enjoyable to do except for the obvious sitting, talking to friends and such.
  • A successful plaza can not start out empty – there has to be something there to begin with – a catalyst.
  • Compression can be good – the size and features of the plaza need to be proportionate to the surrounding structures.

Jeepers, the list above gives me chills! So many cool theories come to my mind. I want to build prototypes and test them out now. Do you have a project that can benefit from an innovative and thoughtful UX consultant? Get in contact – I am available for interesting projects!

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