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From URA work to helping people in developing countries: Taking a ‘People-first’ approach

Jackie (third from the right) and volunteers help rebuild a school for children at Cambodia affected by natural disaster.

Jackie Wong,  a project coordinator in the URA’s Planning and Design Division, has involved in the design and planning of different projects which aim to create a better living environment for the community.  At her leisure time, she also uses her expertise in helping people in the developing countries to rebuild their home and facilities.  Jackie insists that her creative designs are developed based on the “people-first” approach.   “I want to turn creative ideas into products that are beneficial to people and the community.”

Understanding the needs and expectation of the stakeholders is necessary before developing a design for “people”.   Jackie normally spends weeks, or even more time, to understand the needs, preferences and habits of different stakeholders before working on a design concept.  “My colleagues and I went to the Graham Market at different timeslots during the day to observe the consumer behaviour, the operation mode and the peak hours for the market.  We used questionnaires to learn more about preferences of customers and operators before we started to design for the Graham Market promotion.”  She also encouraged the market goers and shop operators to participate in her design. “I asked them what colour represented the market.”  Some preferred a traditional green while some preferred a vibrant yellow.” Jackie finally used both green and yellow in her design to illustrate the traditional characteristics and new life of the market.

Jackie participated in a volunteer group IDEA PROJECT comprising young designers and architects. Over the past few years, she and her teammates have gone to Nepal and Cambodia to help rebuild schools and community facilities for people affected by natural disasters. Just like what she did in the URA, she encouraged the local people in these countries to contribute in her design.   She recalled a school project in Cambodia. “Although we did not speak their language, we used body language to encourage the children to draw their favourite patterns or items. We then used their creations on the school wall and unveiled to them during the school opening day. The children were excited to see their own drawings on the wall and embraced us saying, I LOVE YOU HONG KONG.” Jackie and the team were deeply touched and would not forget the children’s happy faces.

According to Jackie, the most challenging part in taking a “people-first” approach in the design work is to balance the views of different people.  It is not easy to come up with a product which is pleasing to everybody.  Jackie talks to different people during the process.    "Say, at work, different colleagues will have different thoughts. More listening and communication can resolve the differences."  She therefore encourages more interaction and brainstorming so as to enrich her creative design with depth in both her work at URA and volunteer services.

Jackie shared a recently completed project at Nepal, which was to decorate the walls of a community centre.  Some members of her team proposed to draw a world map on the wall so as to let children learn about other countries.  However, Jackie had a different view. "As a designer, I hope to consider from the perspective of the users.  The children in Nepal may not even have knowledge about their own country, not to mention other countries in the world."  So Jackie shared her thoughts with her teammates and after many discussions they finally decided to draw a map of Nepal on the wall to let the children know more about their country.  They also encouraged the children to use their creativity to draw on the walls about the good things that they would like their country to possess.  "These drawings are their dreams for their country.  When they grow up, they may make their dreams come true by building a better living place with their own hands.”

Jackie has set a target for herself too.  She wishes to impress other people with her “people-oriented” designs as well as encourage other people to work together for creative design.  She hopes to let these people to believe that they can design a better future for themselves.   Jackie will continue to help more people in need with her creative designs through her work at URA and volunteer services.