You can please everyone

Scott Dickson | 16 Nov 2016 | Comments

Sometimes the skills required to make a great design that speaks to as many people as possible aren’t design related at all. The ability to listen and see similarities or dissimilarities in briefing requests is more important than design skills. Being able to transform what, at first glance, might seem like opposing points of view into a single unifying design is only possible if the designer can place the views of others above his own.

To ensure spaces have broad appeal, flexibility and usefulness, it is important to evolve a design methodology that puts stakeholders at the very heart of the creative process.

There is no greater opportunity to demonstrate a culture of open partnership to design than in the field of stakeholder engagement. Unlike many single discipline design practices, being an innovative multi-disciplinary design studio means that our in-house creative team of architects, engineers and environmentalists work everyday to refine multiple approaches to projects into a single unified vision. The approach has taught us the value of balancing and enhancing input from many different sources. In simple terms, our design process is the engagement process.

The City of Glasgow College project is a good example of where I was involved in an exemplar engagement process that formed the basis for the final design. By facilitating and participating in over 200 stakeholder engagement events, we were able to consult with thousands of individuals, all with bias and concerns regarding the future campus. The key to successfully leveraging quality outcomes from stakeholder and community engagement was our ability to translate multiple meanings from a single designed proposal. Watching different groups of people find different uses and benefits for the same space was immensely pleasing from a personal point of view, as it really felt like we were adding real value.

It is vital that as designers we are able to design for, and relate to, as many users as possible in order that the single constructed solution can speak to as wide a range of stakeholders as possible, including the funder, governor, manager, lecturer, learner, service user, cleaner, maintainer and neighbour to name but a few. This is not an easy skill to master and not promoted within traditional modes of design practice where architects and designers are encouraged to bend the will of the user to the design proposal. However, the most enlightened design processes are the collaborative partnerships we have created with clients that yield maximum benefits, ensuing the long term appropriation of the built solution by everyone on the user spectrum.

Having been part of Atkins' collaborative design process for many years I am proud of the way we work in partnership with clients, communities and end users all over the country. It continues to define our approach to the Further Education sector as we create new relationships with colleges in 2016 and beyond.