Discovering how “The Emily Test” can offer new—and better—perspectives to design
November 11, 2019
November 11, 2019
Spending time on the dark lanes of Christchurch, New Zealand, highlights the importance of considering personal safety, gender, and what’s right for everyone
Multi-consultancy/multidiscipline teams have been undertaking an assessment of the Christchurch Cycleway in New Zealand and associated redevelopment projects to ensure that the projects are fit for purpose and safe for all users. A new and innovative process has been developed that considers the users for a project and the nature and extent that this project would have on their safety. The Safety Audit and Network Functionality framework (SANF) process considers not only the “typical” safety elements but also how a design impacts the interaction of various users and their personal risk profiles.
During this process, teams were required to assess the projects from many angles. One of our first projects looked at a shared facility that ran along urban streets and through an open reserve area that backed onto an industrial development. So, understanding the use of this facility during hours without sunlight was essential to the assessment. What did we do? We placed ourselves directly into that environment and considered the proposed design from many angles.
Here’s a step-by-step breakdown of our process:
Oftentimes as professionals, we look at a design through a technical lens. We know the design guidelines and can apply them to a task. The design may be technically correct, but it also may miss the mark for the user experience.
The provision of adding new multimodal transport facilities into existing road networks is a big challenge. Requiring a keen attention to detail, the process of route selection—linkage of facilities along with social and network impacts—has a large impact on the viability of a route or area for suitable treatments. This is not “business-as-usual.”
One process applies a special blend of assessment and technical skills to consider multimodal user needs and adjacent land-use activities, as well as wider issues such as crime prevention through environmental design (CPTED), parking, landscape character, urban design, connectivity, maintenance, and future growth. This layered approach ensures an understanding of—and design responses to—inter-modal issues that may not be significant on their own but may be of strategic importance when considered cumulatively. It was obvious to the team above that, while the processes were technically correct in their respective fields, it failed to deliver a safe and effective facility when combined as a whole process.
Emily the engineer—no, it’s better to call her Emily the insightful urban designer—saw things from a different perspective: personal safety, urban form, gender, and what is right for everyone.
What we discovered was that common sense is not that common anymore. It’s important to stand back, lose the little details, and look with a new set eyes—or get someone who can offer that different viewpoint.
We need to challenge our perspectives of “good design.” Sometimes being technically correct on an issue could still result in a poor outcome. Actively seek your colleagues to look at a solution from different angles, or different technical areas. Ask yourself: Do I understand the implications of my design from the other person’s perspective?
The design may be technically correct, but it also may miss the mark for the user experience.
This process challenged me as a male engineer. Did I really understand the safety issues that affected females? Or did I just think that I knew? Did I apply my risk acceptance as a male, assuming that it would apply to all? Did this bias affect my capacity to consider all users and influence my design?
Go out and test it for yourself. Have someone accompany you while you put on a blindfold and walk from the office to the café. Put on Grade 5 earmuffs and walk along the street. How did it feel? What were the issues? Do you now understand how blind or hearing-impaired people react to design?
We all need to carefully consider our designs—roads and streets, water projects, buildings—from multiple perspectives. Seek a different point of view. Ask for someone to challenge your perspectives. Look though different lenses.
If we seek the right feedback, we will be able to say we represent all our society, not just an isolated view that is ours alone. Bottom line: Do the Emily Test!