• dovetaildesign


Placemaking is the broad term given to the process of designing and creating spaces where people want to be. It’s a people-oriented approach to design. The term is often used to describe the creation of public or urban spaces, but it can equally be applied to other destinations. The basic principle is to design an appealing and welcoming place for the local community. A place where their needs are met.

Why is placemaking important to retail centres and the community? Bricks and Mortar retail has experienced many challenges recently due to the rise of failed retail chains along with the downsizing of large department stores. Shopping centres are finding it hard to fill large areas with speciality retail stores and attract customers. This presents the opportunity to create vibrant lifestyle destinations for the local community to boost visitation and keep customers in centres longer. Ultimately the future of shopping centres revolves around providing engaging social spaces to improve retail sales and employment opportunities.

Whether it’s an urban space or a shopping centre, the design considerations are the same.

Through our involvement in defining destinations, whether it be through interior design or by designing a suite of environmental graphics, we have come up with the following insights. These will guide you through the process of working with a designer to make great places.

Tips for Placemaking.

1. Understand the vision

Before starting it’s important to take a step back. While it’s easy to work out the budget and completion date, it can be difficult to capture everything in a design brief. A good designer will invest time here to get clear on the vision. The best way to be sure they’ve understood the brief properly is to ask for a return brief. This will show whether they have the information they need and a clear understanding of the goal.

This gives you the opportunity to correct the brief if it is wrong and add anything more you’ve thought of which should form part of the process. The summary should include as much relevant information as possible: describing the purpose, location, size/extent, style of design, number of people to be accommodated, the local authorities you may be dealing with, and if there are any precedents to be considered.

The process may seem obvious but getting this right will make sure everyone is on the same page and keep the project on the right track from beginning to end.

2. Know your people

As placemaking is about the connection between people and the places they share, it’s critical to understand who those people are.

  • How old are they?

  • What gender?

  • Where do they come from?

  • What cultures do they represent?

  • What physical needs do they have which might impact the design?

  • What do they enjoy?

  • What do they expect from the place?

When you’re confident in knowing your people, the next important question to ask is how might this change in the future? Will the population change, whether in age or background? Is it likely the population will grow? Changes like these need to influence your design to keep it relevant over the long term.

We prefer to present this information visually through mood boards to inspire and drive visual connections and inspiration.

3. Learn from others but make a point of difference

We suggest designers investigate similar projects, local and beyond, and learn from the experience of others. Not only might this reveal unexpected hurdles ahead, but it may offer useful information for your project. More importantly, it will inspire ideas and help to define the point of difference for your destination, revealing the elements which make it unique.

Placemaking is about creating spaces which meet the needs of your people so it should reflect the community values, needs and sense of place which makes them feel at home. Your design needs to be as unique as your people.

4. Work together. Collaborate so that everyone is working towards the same goal.

Because placemaking drawers on the expertise of many, it’s important to work collaboratively for the best outcomes.

The design is created with input from a team which may include developers, builders, architects, designers, artists, retailers, local government advisors, and project managers.

It’s a team effort!

In our experience, the biggest blowouts from a cost and time perspective occur when there is no early engagement with collaborators. For example, proposing an art installation without involving an artist might mean the environment is wrong for that installation and you need to go back to the drawing board.

Our recent project at Roselandsinvolved close collaboration with the interior designers, MTRDC, the developer, VICINITY, the signage contractor, BRAND FUEL, the visual merchandiser POD. We believe the team effort here was the key to the project’s success.

5. It’s never finished

As we said in the beginning, placemaking is the process of designing and creating spaces where people want to be. Communities evolve, needs and trends change, the composition of the community changes, the world around it changes… Good placemaking responds to the evolution of the community it serves with a design that anticipates change. Your designer should demonstrate that the design has longevity and could be expanded on or evolve in time.

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