Doing with Theory
Applying Theory to Developing Design Research Methods
As part of my thesis, I have been exploring public, civic space, specifically that of the public library, one of the most successful and enduring public places. As I was looking for existing theories, frameworks, and heuristics related to public space and successful places, one that I kept coming back to was The Place Diagram from the Project for Public Spaces.
In describing the development of this diagram, they say:
In evaluating thousands of public spaces around the world, PPS has found that to be successful, they generally share the following four qualities: they are accessible; people are engaged in activities there; the space is comfortable and has a good image; and finally, it is a sociable place: one where people meet each other and take people when they come to visit.
I created a modified version of this framework and developed a workbook that would help a citizen or a resident of a neighborhood identify potential civic spaces in their neighborhoods, evaluate them based on PPS’s framework, and ultimately come up with ideas to improve them and experiments to test the ideas.
While this workbook was comprehensive and required a lot of time to complete, I wanted to create a quicker version that could be used less to generate ideas and more to focus on what different libraries are and aren’t doing well on a greater scale, with more data points.
I returned to the wheel and created a single sheet (double-sided) specifically focused on libraries. I asked students in a space and mobility theory course at Carnegie Mellon to think about a library they know well and use the wheel to evaluate the intangibles of the library and ultimately begin to generate some ideas to improve one of these intangibles. The group was large, so I didn’t have much of an opportunity to facilitate. We also didn’t have much time, so many of the students were only able to complete the first half, which was the most important part anyway.
Synthesizing the results, most of the libraries were evaluated as lacking in sociability and/or use and activity. A smaller subset of libraries suffered more from comfort/perception and access/connectivity issues. The most common intangible to improve was Interactive followed by: Charming, Sittable, Attractive, Connected, Vital, and Green.
While the original workbook I devised could be great for going deep, the wheel allows for the collection of many data points to determine overarching trends. This will be useful for targeting the more specific needs of CLP South Side. From here, I would like to apply this specifically to CLP South Side and create a display where passing patrons can voice their opinion on what this branch specifically could do to become a greater place, which of these intangibles are most lacking.