Co-Designing a Market Revival with Residents
Keywords: Community-led design, facilitation, end-to-end service implementationRole: Product Designer with Public Collaboration Lab during (and after) my MA Industrial Design
Camden Council hoped to renew a sense of hope amongst the community of Somers Town by, together with residents, reviving the historic (but quiet as of late) Chalton Street market. Our brief asked us, “to design market furniture of social value for Chalton Street Market.”
Over a 6-month period, we focused on qualitative discovery research with emphasis on engagements in-context with local residents; including workshops, interviews and prototyping. Through initial interviews we learned the best way to engage with community members was out on the street, so we attended the market on Friday’s and (with permission from the Council) set up our own “stall” where we could learn more from residents and traders. In addition, we held open sessions at a local community centre, where market officials from the council and active members of the community could participate in discussions and check-in with progress.
Our first few engagements we’re about aligning visions, understanding context and recognizing what is and isn’t working with the current atmosphere of the market. Early on, we understood that our designs would involve more than just furniture, in order to create a truly thriving market ecosystem.
“Even if you design something great, if people are scared of it or we think it’s not for us, we won’t use it.” - A residents of Somers Town
As the project progressed, engagements turned towards co-creating prototypes, testing ideas and gathering feedback. We created methods to facilitate collaborative prototyping –– our goal was to continue the collaborative process; we didn’t want the dynamic to end just because we had moved from “words” to “objects.”
Our insights from the research included:
- The community of Somers Town wants tangible ways of showing ownership over their neighborhood.
- Many residents hope to not only visit this market, but actively participate in its future.
- The process of becoming a market trader is confusing, bureaucratic and involves a lot of upfront costs. It’s discouraging locals from giving it a go.
- Market stalls feel closed, they emulate an “us” vs. “them” relationship, whereas the community imagines a more friendly, open relationship between traders and people attending the market.
Through over a year of collaborative planning, design and implementation, we designed and built three market stalls –– accompanied by a service assisting Camden residents through the process of becoming a market trader. The product-service system is run by the local community centre, where a member of staff has been trained in running the service (where the stalls will be stored, booking the stall, and helping residents through the trader licensing process).
One of the stalls, designed for selling goods, received funding to become a fruit & veg stand –– our research showed us this was highly desired by residents. Troy, an existing trader on Chalton Street and an active participant in the project, was hired to run the People’s Fruit & Veg Stall.
The additional two stalls were designed for flexible use. Members of the community can book the stalls (online or at the community centre) to share information about upcoming events, swap goods, try out a new business or host a gathering.
The stalls are currently in use on Chalton Street market, bringing fruit & veg to Somers Town residents. Camden Council has plans to apply for funding towards building 15 more shared-use market stalls in order to further develop the service across their Borough.
Our research was (really) extensive, which gave us the opportunity to build meaningful and lasting relationships with members of the community and staff at the local centre – but took a long time. Next time I would:
- Work more iteratively and build more check-in points into the process. Although, I think it’s always a delicate balance between engaging too much, and engaging too little.
- The online booking service received promising feedback in usability testing, however in the end, we’ve noticed that people prefer face-to-face interaction and aren’t using the online system. Next time, take a moment to understand whether digital is necessary.