Will they use it the way we expect?

Retro woman wearing virtual reality headset and saying OMG!The BBC reported recently on a Virtual Reality headset for gym-goers. Instead of doing those reps listening to music, you do them as part of an advanced hi-tech VR game.

“In my two-minute demonstration, I chest-pressed my way to victory in front of a crowd in a huge virtual arena, punching out bowling balls of fire and, inexplicably, large green birds as I pulled the machine, with more resistance piling on at every repetition,” said reporter Zoe Kleinman.

This, it seems to me, is a great example of tech that really won’t work in practice. If you’re already a gym-bunny you don’t need it. If you need that extra bit of encouragement I’m guessing you probably won’t want to stand in a public place with a VR headset on so you’ve no idea what’s going on around you.

Is a small crowd gathering round to point and laugh? Do you look like a complete idiot because you’re using the machine incorrectly? Have you had an unfortunate wardrobe malfunction? Is some spotty teenager videoing your foolishness to upload to YouTube? You’ll have no idea – until your mate sends you a link to the video with 230,000 views saying “Is this you???!!!”.

So nice idea, but who is it for?

Office slides

At a Manchester event I attended before Christmas someone made the same point about that cause célèbre of the ultra-fashionable modern workplace: the slide. Sure they look cool and people like pointing and saying “We’ve got a slide in the office”. But does anyone actually use it? Not really. And that goes double for anyone wearing a skirt or a dress.

There are plenty more mundane examples of urban design that, with the best of intentions, have failed the “but will people use it in the way we expect” test. Desire lines for pedestrians that go across that pristine grassed area or ten metres to the right of the expensive puffin crossing. Tower block lobbies that are no-go zones, not the vibrant community spaces imagined by the architects. Children being driven the half mile to school rather than walking or cycling. Cyclists who choose the quickest route home instead of the carefully-laid cycle path that takes them half a mile out of their way.


And it’s a good reason why consultation on any new development should be about more than box-ticking. Not because local residents are always right, any more than planners are always right. But it’s surprising how often a well-meaning design will produce a solution that just doesn’t work – and people who know the patch knew it wouldn’t work, and said so when you asked them.

For any planning development consultation, it’s worth asking not just “How do we tick the boxes and meet the local authority’s rules?”. Also ask “How can we use this consultation to improve our proposals and get our development right?”


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Possibly the most salient thing I have ever read on here.

It’s a failure of our legalistic planning system that lack of evidence of robust assumptions testing isn’t a valid reason for rejection. It really ought to be.

By Mike