The re-evaluation and rebranding of a public library from a Human Centred Design (HCD) point of view: a case study

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Heenop, Danelle
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This study attempts to gain an understanding of the responsibilities and place of the designer within his/her social, political and environmental context, a topic which is continuously being scrutinised. Graphic designers, as practitioners and researchers, have shifted towards principles found within Human-Centred Design (HCD) and problem-solving processes, primarily concerned with the community’s need and the voice of the community members within the problem and thus integrating the user into the design practice and problem-solving process. This practice-based research project reflects upon the integration of human-centred graphic design processes, analysing the brand and wayfinding design currently incorporated in the Sasolburg Public Library (SPL) through the implementation of HCD thinking and problem-solving processes, Participatory Action Research (PAR) and the HCD IDEO toolkit. The researcher critically and experientially questions and reflects upon HCD thinking: its problem-solving strategies, strengths and the ultimate result of its integration into the project, as she aimed to codesign a functional brand identity and way-finding system that resonates with the identified community need as well as the SPL’s current space and place ‘description’, essentially attempting to create a public library that is human-centred at heart. The integrated co-designed problem-solving processes, guided by the HCD IDEO toolkit, were applied within a focus group setting, and comprised out of seven focus group sessions referred to as HCD team meetings. The focus group sessions consisted out of six HCD team meeting and one member checking contact session, supported by various research phases. The team meetings all considered theoretical constructs within multiple HCD research approaches, including the HCD analysis model, PAR research cycles and the action research model, constantly re-considering existing assumptions and structures within the unique context of a public library setting, but specifically the SPL. Each focus group team meeting, and its subsequent research tools, were tailor-made for the SPL context, considering principles of the co-design process along with the expertise and perceived knowledge structures of the HCD team consisting of the designer (as specialist within practice), the researcher (as specialist academic) and the librarians (as specialists within the SPL and the identified problem). Arising from this complex construction of tools, and subsequent data collected, various findings were made identifying the value and strengths as well as the feasibility of HCD thinking processes and their integration within a ‘real life context’. Summarised findings include: the implementation of co-design processes, PAR repetitive cycles, and the creation of design deliverables answering to identified needs; tensions identified within the co-design process, sparking the beginning of what seems to be a continuous and endless ‘power/authority/expertise struggle’ throughout the problem-solving process; an aesthetic adjustment (with specific reference to graphic design executions identified within traditional design practices) as a result of the co-design process and lastly, a break in HCD co-design thinking, which argues for implementing democratic thinking practice and processes within the production and design application process. Considering the findings on the HCD research process within the context of this research, suggestions towards possible design solutions and future potential applications (within a theoretical context) are made, allowing the research in its specific, public library context, to contribute to HCD theoretical thinking processes and their integration within graphic design research and practice.
Human-centred design, branding, wayfinding, participatory action, IDEO toolkit, design, tensions, problem-solving processes, aesthetics in design, community needs, co-design