You can’t start with an iteration, you can only start with an idea

Why design is a good idea–part 4

A story I first told at UX Cambridge in 2015.

This is the King’s Cross station extension in London. It’s a wonderful new building. An inspiring open space.

This is how the station looked from the outside before redevelopment.

It was a mixture of 1970s buildings attached to the front of a Victorian building.

The public space that’s been created at King’s Cross gives new life to the original Victorian building.

This is how the station looks today (original artists impression).

They’ve completely knocked down all the 1970s buildings to create an open square or piazza. This is complemented by the new station extension on the side of the Victorian building.

Lessons learned

The previous station buildings were largely functional. They just about worked in that, most of the time, they let people depart and arrive on trains.

But this wasn’t a great space for people.

People meeting, departing, waiting etc.

In designing the new extension the architects have fully understood the needs of travellers using the station. They’ve delivered more space — public space, and open space.

It’s now a space that inspires. And a space that works better for people.

They’ve effectively stripped back less considered buildings and smaller extensions to make way for something new. Something bigger.

You couldn’t have got to this design through iteration

The architects for the new King’s Cross had to completely strip back previous ideas. They had to remove large parts of what already existed.

They’ve now completely reimagined the space and how people will be able to interact there.

The previous station development suffered from incremental design.

Throughout a number of decades new ‘functional’ buildings were gradually added to each other without a useful and usable vision for how best to use the complete space.

Without this type of response to the space no one had fully considered how to meet the needs of passengers and the public.

The importance of starting with an idea

I had this conversation with Ben Terrett about King’s Cross over a coffee there a couple of years ago.

It’s important that we start by imagining something better than what already exists.

This is a different type of design response.

A new vision for what could be possible.

Ideas are how you get started.

Ideas that rethink and reinvent.

Design is a good ideas because big ideas matter. It puts sticks in the ground.

Footnote: You could describe this example as a *big* iteration. But, in my experience, iteration tends to lead towards incremental change. No idea is ever brand new. Good ideas recognise the value of what already exists. Think about how this architecture and design has reinvigorated the Victorian architecture of King’s Cross while completely reimagining such a busy public space.

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