Did you hear about the architects who designed a house with the wrong roof?
This actually happened. Not long ago in New Orleans, Brad Pitt’s foundation brought architects together to help design houses as part of the rebuilding process after Katrina. Architects brainstormed their best ideas and came back with plans for… a house with a flat roof.
Having lived in New Orleans, I can tell you that it rains in that city. A lot. Flat roofs aren’t such a great idea.
Here’s the twist: I really like what the architects came up with. I mean, at the end of the project. Because the flat roof never got built. The architects learned, before the project went into the build phase, that the roof needed, literally, a different direction. The architects redesigned the roof.
What changed the architects’ minds? This one all-important step that is so often overlooked or skipped in the design and innovation process: including the customer. The architects sat down with future residents of those houses to understand their perspective, before the houses got built. The residents took one look at the plans and said, hey, maybe a flat roof isn’t such a great idea for New Orleans rainstorms.
The architects, in other words, included the residents – the “customers” of their process – and were able to create a better outcome than they would have by excluding the customers.
I’ve been thinking a lot about this story, which I spotted in this New York Times op-ed. The authors are really speaking our language. Although they’re addressing architects, tell me if their words don’t ring true:
We must rethink how we respond to the needs of diverse constituencies by designing for them and their interests, not ours. We must hone our skills through authentic collaboration, not slick salesmanship . . . Reconnecting architecture with its users — rediscovering the radical middle, where we meet, listen and truly collaborate with the public, speak a common language and still advance the art of architecture — is long overdue. It’s also one of the great design challenges of our time.
Does this resonate with you? That we should design, create, and innovate for our users’ interests, and not our own – I find this an elegant description of what Creative Good stands for (and indeed is a rallying cry for our community gathering at our Gel conference in April in New York).
It’s not just architects, either. In Paris, the president of the Louvre uses a “customers included” strategy by standing in lines and being with museum visitors to understand the experience from their perspective.
This idea? Of including the people we serve in the decisions we make? It’s real, and it’s growing. I intend to keep spreading it in 2015 – with this newsletter, with our Gel conference, and with conversations and meetings – with you and the rest of the Creative Good community. Thanks for being a part of it.