Human Factors and the University of Waterloo

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The University of Waterloo, my alma mater, redesigned the south entrance to the university (read it here). What caught my eye was how the went about designing the entrance. They asked the entire university community to submit plans, not to professional architectural firms, nor even to its own Architecture and Environmental departments.

The University Newspaper wrote the following about the competition:

"Yes, it’s ambitious, but isn’t that one of UW’s strengths? What other university would challenge its own students to design an ideal campus for themselves? These decisions are usually left up to hired planners, maybe with a couple of student surveys. Well, the current South Campus Gateway is a testament to how that can go wrong, and this challenge is a testament to how UW perhaps has more faith in its students than any other average university. Forgive me for sounding patriotic, but the fact that this competition really stresses cross-faculty collaboration makes me buy into the words on those laser-logo banners all around campus. You don’t have to be in planning, or civil, or architecture to have solid design ideas. As i3 committee member Dr. Jeff Casello put it, “everyone is a user of the space.” Ergo, a good design uses everyone’s input." See

This is keeping the human factor in mind. It says people who actually use the entrance are best suited to design an entrance THEY would want to use.

Sounds rather democratic, but it really is just plain common sense. Design should be about the end-user not some pie in the sky blue sky thinking. Sure, it is good to break new ground, come up with good ideas, introduce something new. But like a path through the forest, an unused path will end up useless and revert to its natural state. A useful path will remain open for everyone to use. It suits the needs of the users.

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