Design Discovery


We often work with developers that, through their projects, are helping rebuild neighborhoods and districts in cities across the country. Conventionally, communities and developers have been somewhat at odds with one another, leaving each feeling as though they play for different teams. This doesn’t have to be the case. At YARD, we constantly work to evolve the development planning and design process in a way that enables it to support neighborhood goals and capitalize on the neighborhoods unique strengths while de-risking the project for the developer. We call this process Design Discovery. It begins with uncovering what matters and showing what is possible through the rapid testing of scenarios and responses to arrive at the most appropriate and creative outcome.

This process is equal parts art and science. Through our tinkering with it over the past 15 years we have seen the following principles emerge:

1. Do not over spend too early

The mistake most developers make is to think they must sell a neighborhood on their product. The industry has taught them to overspend on architecture and renderings early to help make the sale. But what if instead of ‘Here’s what I am going to do for you.’ we started with the more collaborative sales pitch of ‘Here’s what I think we can do together.’  A slightly different approach that makes a world of difference.

2. Ask for information

The convention in most places is for the developer to go ask permission or a blessing from the community. This is classic box checking and misses the greater opportunity to collaborate and capitalize on a places inherent value. The starting point for Design Discovery is to not ask for permission but to ask for information that can be leveraged for a better outcome. And who better to provide that intel than the community itself.

3. Make it fun

Chances are that the community and city employees are volunteers, overworked, or both. So make this fun. Turn the meetings into meet-ups by giving them some energy and choosing interesting places that shed light on the DNA of the place. These can create common connections and reinforces the notion that you are playing for the same team.