Last night, I saw the movie The Human Scale outside, in a park in downtown Dallas. It is about cities and how they were designed for cars and not people. Well, not entirely true and I take that back. Early cities (up through the 1950s) were designed for people; cities in the 50's and beyond were designed for cars. And that design is clearly not working well for cities or the happiness of people in the cities. Most people now live in the suburbs and work in the cities; and people who live in the cities don't usually associate with their neighbors because they are disconnected from life and don't socialize with them.
Jan Gehl, founder of Gehl Architects in Denmark, is the innovative force of this movement to design cities for people. He has influenced countless leaders and urban planners to change the focus of a city to make it more social and friendly to people - not a place for cars.
He got his start:
As a "young architect working in the suburbs," Gehl married a psychologist and "had many discussions about why the human side of architecture was not more carefully looked after by the architects, landscape architects, and planners... My wife and I set out to study the borderland between sociology, psychology, architecture, and planning."
His team has done great research about people in cities, watching how they move, what they like and don't like, and have influenced other activists and researchers to do the same. It was truly inspiring.
And the changes that can be made to a city to make it more people-friendly don't have to be huge, sweeping changes. They can be small things, like adding a square with tables and chairs for people to sit, socialize and have impromptu exchanges. Or by creating larger walkways quickly, by creating artifical boundaries that uses some street space for pedestrian sidewalks. Change comes in smaller iterations rather than big projects.
For the Agile and UX practioners out there - this should all sound familiar.
I think what I liked best about the movie was seeing how the Agile movement of small changes quickly in iterations is expanding into other fields, as well as a focus on the user/customer/people rather than machines and systems.
Computer systems have always been designed by engineers for engineers. They are designed to do what is easy for the system - not reflect how people think or work. We have been taught to think a certain way by using these devices - and one has to wonder if this is the best way. This is why the UX world is changing the focus of technologists to think more about the people using devices rather than the technology to create the devices.
Change is more effective in small doses. A new feature here or there can make a system more usable. Add up those changes over time, and you have a new system that is better for the user all around. If a feature doesn't work for people, then just remove it and continue with trying new things until you get it right.
I felt hopeful for the future watching this movie about cities, change and the focus being on people and their needs. We are the ones living in cities (or suburbs) and using devices and applications - we should be the ones dictating how they should work to help us in our daily lives be happier and healthier.