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  • Public Research + Design

Service thinking for places

Most placemaking today centers on the project site - pop ups, activations, events, public art and environmental graphics are all ways to make a place great.

However, as strategists, researchers and designers, we are interested in the whole experience a visitor has, and that goes beyond place. In our view, there are other aspects that can enhance the place experience that do not rely on the visitor to be there. In fact, there are ways to expand and extend the visitor experience, to make a place ‘sticky’, and to create a connection between the visitor and the place before or after they have visited – in short, to deliver a holistic place experience. This benefits everyone involved, including tenants and operators.

Place as a service

One way to think about, and to make places ‘holistic’ is to think about them as services.

Services are intangible products, and their design requires, like any product, skill, expertise and experience. The design of services is a joined-up approach to serving customer needs - common place in industries such as banking, insurance, government, and telecommunication, this way of thinking can also enhance placemaking.

It involves researching, understanding and creating a joined-up journey that services visitors, and customers, in combination with the built environment. There are many examples of how services are integrated into the built environment. Think about valet and wifi-services, customer loyalty cards or smart parking meters. Yet, they are not necessarily integrated along a whole experience journey. So, what elements can help you deliver a joined-up, holistic place experience? Here are 5 elements you can borrow from service design and integrate into placemaking:

1. Consider the sign-up and exit experience of your ‘service’ – how do you entice visitors to join you, how do you keep them, how do you tempt them to come back?

2. Identify the truebeginning and end points of your visitor journey – they start much earlier than when people arrive, and conclude way after they have left

3. Know the realdrivers for visiting your place – you will not find this out through surveys, instead, observe people in their natural environments for extended periods of time, the real reasons for visiting will emerge

4. Consider other elements beyond the physical environment – they include staff, technology, physical artefacts (such as tickets, sign-up forms) and intangible slices of experience, e.g. marketing, waiting times, customer service etc.

5. Consider stages of a journey – every visitor experience has a rhythm to it that can be divided into stages – once you understand the stages of your visitor, you can design them (better)

Granted, service design is just one way to think about places, and it is a departure from how placemaking is usually practiced. But it is a helpful concept for considering the holistic experience of a place, and often a great idea generator. Try applying it sometime to your project!

If you’d like to find out more about how to achieve better experiences through holistic placemaking, sign up for our newsletter, and get in touch.


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