“Design” is a big word and encompasses many aspects of any project. While there is a discrete project design (the arrangement of land, buildings, features, materials, and systems) as well as the work produced by design professionals (architects, landscape architects, and engineers), there are many other things that require “design thinking” if you are to produce a successful project. The first thing to design is the vision for the project – a combination of words, ideas, numbers, and assumptions related to budget and so on. Next, you must design the team that will lead and implement the project, from the vision through the execution. This team may include elected officials, government staff, business leaders, non-profit leaders, and community members. Once you have the leadership team in place, you must design the process for selecting the actual professional design team. This process may be a simple RFP or a complicated public design competition or any number of variations in between. And after this process is complete, you must integrate the design professionals into the team and then begin the process of engaging the pubic and the users and developing a concept design based on their feedback.
Once you have created a concept design that has generally broad acceptance and support, there is the longer and more nuts and bolts process of detailed design, followed by construction. Other important design efforts will include the design of an identity or brand for the project as well as graphics, logos, and all of the applications for the brand. Depending on the scale and duration of the project this work may include branding and graphics for the process as well as for the final project and design. A related and equally important process is the conscious design of a communications, public relations, and media relations plan for the project. Public projects can attract a lot of attention and if you don’t plan ahead for how you will communicate, you risk becoming unnecessarily bogged down and distracted by negative media attention and public critique.
Last but not least, throughout the process you have to plan and design for the actual final funding, activation, operation, and use of the place on an ongoing basis. Many decisions in the early days will have big impacts on the people who have to run it day-to-day for years to come – from cleaning to changing light bulbs, emptying the trash, and removing the snow.