Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Houses vs Homes or Seattle Center Planning v2

Phew, catching up on a few blog posts here. In addition to my whole ballot fiascoes last week, I attended another open house for Seattle Center's 21st Century planning process. This time it was held at the Langston Hughes Arts Center. It was a gorgeous building, and fewer people showed up. Perhaps it was the time of day, perhaps it was the location, regardless, it seemed like that less people were present. Admittedly I got there about 30 minutes into it but still, not as many as I would have liked to have seen.

The format was essentially the same, and I had a great discussion with several of the volunteers around the notion of fun, flow, play and games. Mostly we were talking about what makes for an engaging experience and I shared some of my thoughts with regards to how elements of good game design / flow could be applied on a wider scale to say, planning for the Seattle Center :-) We also discussed the notion of what "a first date experience" could feel like at a revamped Seattle Center. I'll get into that first date bit in another thread. For now, I just want to provide some general thoughts and reflections.

I also found it interesting that a lot of the people there (volunteers or attendees) were architects. Really it's not too surprising when much of the focus of the topic areas are on buildings such as the Center House, Key Arena, memorial Stadium, etc. The notion of open space also is quite prominent, and closely related in my opinion, to the overall notion of buildings.

While having tangible discussion points is a great way to help focus people on direct and concrete feedback, in some ways I feel that this is putting the cart before the horse. In my day to day job of being a product manager, I try not to focus on the specific implementations much, and rather, I want to ensure that the best overall experience is what is ultimately realized. By focusing on the buildings, or programs that occur in the physical spaces, it feels to me that we're diving straight to the implementation. A risk that can arise from this is having all of these great buildings/programs/open space but there isn't that really ties them together in a meaningful way. In many ways, it's the difference between a great house and a great home; a house is really just an object, but a home is a feeling. I want Seattle Center to foster great feelings.

Ok, so how does one go about that? Personally, I would start back at the goals of Seattle Center. One of the goals listed says "The nation's best gathering place." Finding out what this means to people in the region seems to be a good place to start. Where do people currently gather? People, in this case are defined as those in the target audience of Seattle Center. Likely this is a mix of people from the region as well as tourists. It would be helpful (perhaps it is already known?) to determine where they currently gather. Of course, finding out where they gather is just part of the equation. The more interesting part, in my opinion, is why they gather where they gather. Is it because it's convenient? Is it because that's where their friends are? Perhaps it's a cost thing, or maybe their options are limited so it's the default choice. Regardless, taking a closer look at how targeted audience members interpret "gathering place" within the context of their current lives will help shine light on what to build and how to get there.

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