2023 | MerkoStrategicService DesignUser Research
Successful real estate developers cannot rely on just building great houses anymore. Next-generation residential developers are creating human-centered communities and putting liveability at the heart of their work through designing spaces where people can live healthy, communal and fulfilling lives.
Merko, Estonia’s most reputable real estate developer, had understood, that building the best houses in Estonia is not enough. They needed to find out and understand better, how people are actually living in their developments – what they value and what is missing – in order to make more informed human-centered strategic decisions in their business and support the growth of communities and neighborhoods.
To understand the experience of Uus-Veerenni residents we needed to get close to the people and their everyday lives. We started our ethnographic research journey by walking around in the neighborhood and observing the environment, the people, the interactions, the use of public spaces and services, the overall rhythm of life in Uus-Veerenni. Next to our own individual observations we also had a tour of the area through the eyes of the developer as well as through the eyes of a local family.
Our preliminary findings, combined with inspiring insights from a thorough trend research on the future of urban planning and residential development, led us to go more in depth with our user research and focus more on topics from neighbors and community to accessibility and sustainability.
We met with eight different people, who live in Uus-Veerenni and each person walked us around in the neighborhood and shared insights into their everyday lives, ideal homes, things they enjoy and things they would like to change in the neighborhood, etc. These contextual one-on-one interviews gave us great insights into what people truly value when it comes to their home, surrounding community and public space.
But interviews weren’t enough to understand people’s everyday lives – we needed to map people’s regular tasks and amenities they need to use and how accessible those are.
We created Uus-Veerenni physical, pen-and-paper diaries, which were then filled in by eight different residents of Uus-Veerenni during a seven day period.
The diary consisted of various tasks that were prepared on the basis of all our previous research (interviews, trends, observations, desktop research). And one of the central tasks was for all the participants to map out every day all the daily activities outside of their homes. Where do they need to go, which services they need to use, how do they travel to those places: by car, on foot, by bike etc., how long does it take them and how do they feel about all of this.
Other tasks focused on e.g observations and changes of the neighborhood, analysing the community and visualising what their ideal home looks and feels like. The insights people shared in their diaries were really valuable in highlighting the possible opportunity areas for Merko to work together with the community to make the neighborhood even better.
As a final step in our user research journey we organised a co-design session for the residents, representatives from Merko as well as our own designers from Velvet to think and dream about Uus-Veerenni together based on all our previous findings and insights. The purpose of this session was to shape the possible futures of Uus-Veerenni: in which direction the quarter could develop and what kind of activities could be necessary to move towards the goal.
As a result of this work, we uncovered some focus areas in order to create an even greater living experience for the residents of Uus-Veerenni or in other future residential developments:
These valuable user insights help to move firmly toward more human-centered residential design, engage residents in community building and make informed strategic decisions in their business development.