Listen to what I mean, not what I say


A couple of years ago I was having a conversation with my wife Amy about what, I can’t remember. She was telling me something and used the wrong word in her description and I couldn’t help myself and corrected her mid sentence. What I do remember about that conversation was her response to my suggestion which was, “Listen to what I mean, not what I say”. It made me laugh at the time, but I have since realized it is great advise and I think if it often.

I was reminded of that saying recently, but in another way, while having a conversation with my colleague Dan Harding last weekend about techniques in running a successful community design charrette. He applies an interesting method to note taking for these events. He will charge one student with writing down community member suggestions verbatim, writing down exactly what he or she said, while at the same time having another student “read between the lines” of what is being said. What Dan is trying to get the second note taker to do is to get the underlining meaning of the community members comment. Don’t take the statement literaly but look at the symbolism intertwined into the statement and see what he or she really means aside from the literal meaning. Example: A married couple with young children may say in the meeting that they would like to add more stop signs along their street to slow traffic in front of their house. This solution they provided (what they said) will make the property more safe for their children to play (what they mean). As designers we need to listen to what our clients mean as well as what they say. Yes, adding stop signs to their street may improve the safety of their street, but there are also other ways that should be explored to solve the problem as well, i.e. speed humps, traffic lights, speed limits, controlled direction (one way), buffers to the road, etc.

Wednesday we had a very productive meeting where the students presented their research and site analysis for the West Ashley Community Garden followed by a discussion with those in attendance: Jim Martin,  programs director of the Charleston Parks Conservancy; Jason Kronsberg, Deputy Director of Parks for the City of Charleston; Harry Crissy, extension agent for Clemson’s extension for Economic and Community Development; and faculty members Ray Huff and Jacob Lindsey. The purposes of this meeting were to instill confidence in our client that we are qualified to design for them (we are educated in their topic), and to discuss site planning strategies (what makes sense to go where on the site). It is now time for the students to break apart and work independently on design solutions using the research and information learned during Wednesday’s discussions to lead their design proposal. This is a short design period of just 10 days, so each student’s proposal should speak distinctly to its strengths while applying the information learned from Wednesday’s meeting.

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