The impact ‘place’ has on design. Place can mean a lot of different… | by Sanna Rau | Jan, 2024


Place can mean a lot of different things, but what is its significance to design? Whether it’s a physical place, finding place for something or knowing one’s place, let’s explore the connection between “place” and design.

I’m standing at a crowded train station a Tuesday morning, backed up against a wall with a notepad and a take away cup of train station coffee. People are rushing around getting to their platforms, buying tickets and picking up loved ones. I’m observing. My job is to analyse the ticket machines for one of the train operators, and so I stand there and watch, trying not to look too creepy.

I see people with multiple bags, dogs and children trying to keep an eye on everything while purchasing the right ticket. I observe stressed commuters topping up their cards. I watch non-native speakers trying to understand where to change the language, and security staff helping travellers understand how to purchase tickets.

Later that day I walk out thinking about design of experiences in specific physical places, and what it means for our digital mirror world. Interactions that are digital can never be only digital, because we are physical beings, we are always physically present somewhere. I think about how physical places have histories, connect us to our past and our future, and ground us to the only real thing, the earth we’re standing on. Yet, place is so much more than just a physical place.

Train station ticket machine. Photo by Oliver Sand
Train station ticket machine. Photo by Oliver Sand on Unsplash

Passive places to conquer

The (hi)story goes that in 1492 the Spanish royals sponsored Columbus to go find new routes to the far east to trade spices. The crew onboard the three ships were looking for one place, but ended up in another place. The place that Columbus thought was Japan wasn’t at all Asia.

This part of history is tainted by the colonial perspective. Columbus has been said to have “discovered the new world”, an already populated continent that was then claimed and colonised with devastating consequences for the people already living there.


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