A Collision of Ideas

A Collision of Ideas

Innovate 2018, the first Experience Makers Academy, was an enthralling cocktail of argument, academia and insight

The Innovate Academy, staged by Experience Makers, powered by RealService and delivered by UAL, Central Saint Martins, was a masterclass in how the desire for “an experience” is impacting on our businesses, and our lives.

“We measure space, but we treasure place,” said CSM’s Tricia Austin who, with her colleagues in the university’s Spatial Practices programme, challenged the attendees to come up with ideas to invigorate, regenerate and maintain public spaces.

‘Any space has an emotional impact’

Her mission was to get business and community to collide, to everyone’s advantage. Engage multiple audiences, add cultural resilience and you will find that people can be connected through good design. If people are engaged with the space, they will sustain it, she said. And that was when the property managers
in the room sat up and took notice.

“How can you engage multiple audiences? How can you work out who will feel welcome and who will come?” she asked. “How can you make sure you don’t simply put culture on display but actually nurture it?

“We are in the age of experience.”

Morning speaker, architect Tom Duncan, of Duncan McCauley, designs museums and heritage sites primarily in the UK and Germany.

“Any space has an emotional impact,” he said. “Our spaces are visitor-driven so when we design them we are looking for emotional engagement, asking ourselves what emotions we can provoke and wondering what experience the visitor is going to have at each particular dwelling point of the museum or exhibition. All the calculating, predicting and planning eventually leads to building and then assessing.

“We are journey-mapping, using time-based analysis to plot the ideal visitor route. Specific visitors are given personas and those different personas influence the design.”

His optimistic view of inclusion and community was counterbalanced by Thomas Sevcik, who presented a dystopian picture of cities as “strategic curated experiences.” Take Bilbao, he said. People go there to take a picture of the Guggenheim but hardly any of them bother to go in and see the art.

“Art is the biggest experience agent we have ever had because experience is driven by scarcity, luxury and physicality – things like food, art or sport that you can’t get from the internet,” he said. “Food is the new retail and urban settings are turning into curated experiential cities. If you look at City Walk in Dubai, it’s a simulated part of the city with no historical relevance. It could be anywhere.”

The reaction to Sevcik’s crystal ball was clear to see as attendees were challenged to ‘activate’ their own space, a hypothetical square in central London.

Asked first to add detail to three ‘personas’, teams completed journey maps for their first key customers. Timelines were added, and then changed so longevity had to be considered. Who would maintain the square, how could stakeholders be engaged? What about people who did not want experiences prescribed by a flow chart? How could ‘space’ be turned into that treasured ‘place?

The result was an optimistic reaction to Sevcik’s view that big business will buy into community “and then sell it off”. These hardened property folk lost their cynicism and embraced the business case for community collaboration with plans for gardens, free yoga events, musical interludes and markets.

It was a positive finish to an insightful day. RealService founder and managing director Howard Morgan is a founder partner of Experience Makers. He attended Innovate and summed up the proceedings. “It was an enthralling collision of ideas,” he said.

Five key learnings from Innovate 2018

1. Great spaces thrive and survive when they make people feel welcome. Designing them, however, is tricky and requires extensive research. How can you involve multiple audiences and work out who will want to visit, or stay? How can you nurture culture rather than simply display it? How can you work out who is likely to feel welcome? Who are we not seeing because they are not there? Yep. As many questions as answers.

2. Creating personas of your customers will help you identify some of the answers to the issues above. This is called customer journey mapping and, in Tom Duncan’s world of heritage and museum design, it involves figuring out the likely progress of each visitor from the moment they park their car. He likened the process to a film narrative: finding a call to adventure, moments of suspense and – though he didn’t mention the café and gift shop – a satisfying ending.

3. Property developers have gone from producers of space to curators of experiences. That’s the view of Thomas Sevcik, founder of artesia and the provocateur of the day. He believes art is going to be the “biggest experience agent we have ever had” in an era where experience is driven by scarcity, luxury or physicality. Basically, you have to be there; anyone with money can own a Banksy painting but the real experience was being in the room when Girl with Red Balloon went through the shredder. Just like Innovate 2018: You had to be here.

4. Not everyone agreed with Sevcik’s dystopian view of curated lives. The artificial creation of urban design will make developers lots of money, but it will lack authenticity: cities have become the new theme parks, Instagrammable brands disguised as urban renaissance. “Curated experiences don’t create communities,” said one delegate. “Doesn’t it depend who is doing the curating?” said another.

5. When you mix folk from all areas of the property industry, add a slice of academic rigour and blend this with two provocative speakers and a hands-on workshop you get a vibrant combination of debate, ideas and argument. “It was the best bit of formal learning I have been to in the last 20 years. It did my head in; it was brilliant,” said Polly Plunket-Checkemian, of MJ Mapp.

Who are Experience Makers?

Our community brings together developers, designers, service providers, asset managers, proptech innovators, property managers, event managers, corporate occupiers and a myriad of creative people.

We are committed to championing a new way of thinking about property where the customers’ experience comes first.

Our founder partners include Northwood Investors, Derwent London, Equiem, TfL, Get Living, M&G Real Estate, BNP Paribas Real Estate.

Find out more about us at www.experiencemakers.com

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