Just a pavement…!?

“… and you will be in charge of the pavement design”, by saying these words, the architectural firm’s project manager left my dear friend sadly shocked, he had left Egypt to gain practical experience training at one of the top architectural firms in the States. He had always considered himself very lucky being part of a large design project, … but designing a pavement!!? what kind of experience would he gain in designing a pavement!?

Pavement Design

Pavement Design

Knowing the process of “constructing roads or pavements in Egypt (that is if we can call it a “process”), it is always done (as it has been for over a century) without any design or supervision from an architect or civil engineer…

After a brief moment of depression, building up his courage he decided to protest, after all he was there to learn, and there is obviously nothing to learn from working on the pavement project… or is there?

To my friend’s even greater surprise, the PM reaction was simply handing him a very large document titled “Pavement Design Manual”, asking him to read it over the weekend and decide after that if he would like to be transferred to one of the other project teams…

What my friend learned from this manual was that pavement design turned out to be more complicated than he had ever expected,  he had to design the pavement from an Environmental and User Experience point of view rather than from an Engineering perspective… what that meant was he had to study, for example, what kind of plants or trees would be planted, how will watering them affect the pavement structure, how will -in time – their roots grow and if they will expand to break the surface, if the trees will grow to block the view of 1st or 2nd floor windows, or will they block approaching car’s view to any intersecting streets, will the leaves in autumn fall on the pavement blocking sewage drains… etc

From a UX perspective, he had to check road traffic and speed analysis to place blocks where needed to protect pedestrians from uncontrolled cars, he had to check how will rain affect the pavement and how will water splash on the pavement if a speeding car passes by… he had to study pavement furniture, that is recycle bins, crossing signs, bus-stops… etc and he also had to cater for accessibility, how will a disabled person use this pavement? will he be able to use a wheelchair? … and all this was not even half of it.



Pavement design turned out to be so complicated, If the case was inverted and the internship was for some reason in a less developed country, they would never understand or approve such details which reflect on schedule and budget, why would a pavement design take more than one hour? if an educated architect could not understand at first how complicated such a design could be, how do you expect most people to understand the real effort any design work should take however small a project may be, this does not happen by imitating or just reusing old designs, but by innovating, by looking at the design from a user’s perspective.

We are in the majority of cases educated to do things just the way they have always been done, never thinking of ways to enhance, never having the courage to be the first to try something new, innovation is just not commonly available in our culture, we – as is the majority of individuals – like to be safe, why try something new and have the risk of failure while we know a guaranteed and tried method?

We should not fear to innovate, Thomas Edison failed more than 1,000 times when trying to create the light bulb. When asked about it, Edison allegedly said, “I have not failed 1,000 times.  I have successfully discovered 1,000 ways to NOT make a light bulb.”, the idea is that — even if you try and fail, it doesn’t mean that you didn’t learn something new.

We also usually fail to look at any design from a user perspective, a small rule I learned in collage when I was studying as an architect, usually we used to see people taking shortcuts over fences or similar situations because the designed road is longer and we may think of these people as uncivilized to take such shortcuts by cutting fences or walking over the grass…etc but actually its the other way round, the designer failed to see peoples needs and looked only from a design perspective not thinking how real people would actually use the design.

If we think of each design on the same level of the above pavement example, and instead of doing it the exact same easy way as it has always been done and rather looking at it from a user perspective, not fearing to innovate on ideas, our designs will usually in almost every case impress and exceed the client’s expectations…

My advice in any design project:

  1. Think your designs deeply (remember the pavement example)
  2. Rethink your designs from a user perspective…
  3. Don’t fear to innovate…