A project to design a retail space and services for the Pontio Arts and Innovation project, with a focus on community engagement.

The Pontio project is a multi-million pound project to create an inter-disciplinary arts and innovation centre, with the goal of uniting the local community with the university, and developing projects focussed on Culture, Health and the Environment. It will also contain a theatre, cinema and facilities for students and the community to use. It will be equipped with cutting edge prototyping and manufacturing equipment and digital tools.

Working with University Academics, we were tasked with running a weekend workshop to gain an understanding of the needs and expectations of the community, and to develop a plan for the design of the shop and the services it could provide. Though the shop was expected to sell tickets for events run by Pontio, we were asked to look into other potential services. The workshop included students, Pontio stakeholders and members of the local community.

I ran a workshop with a group of psychology students, some designers, Pontio staff and James Intriligator and Andy Goodman to develop and design a shop for the Pontio project. It was an opportunity for students to apply their learning, and benefit the community and Pontio at the same time.

The centre will not be completed for a couple of years yet, but the groundwork is coming into place, and, as part of this, it was decided that a Pontio Shop should be developed to give Pontio a physical presence.

However, rather then taking a top down approach and just creating a shop based on Pontio’s needs, we decided to to go down a different route. This would be the first workshop I’d developed from scratch on my own, so it was a learning experience for everyone involved.

We started off on the Friday afternoon, delivering a brief introduction to design thinking and Service Design in particular, then Pontio delivered their brief on what they do, and what they would want to see come out of the weekend. This gave all students from the Consumer Psychology course to get a taster for design thinking, and meant people could have a night to start thinking of opportunities for the shop.

Then, kicking off Saturday morning, the workshop began!

Starting off, we got out and about into town, looking at the types of places liked going to, and talking to them. We wanted to know what people thought of Pontio and what they’d like to see in future. You can’t really have a shop for a community project without including them in how it develops. We had input from Pontio, from students, from a range of people within the community.

Then, looking at what we’d got from feedback, we broke down people’s needs and expectations and started developing ideas for what we could do with the space. Writing all over the walls helped here.

Then after a long day or conversations and ideas, we created a set of rules, or criteria, that each of ideas had to solve. If they didn’t solve the problem, they didn’t make the cut. We let student simmer over night to think about this, and develop some ideas further. The next day, the fun begins. Sunday was prototype day.

We started off the day by narrowing down some of the ideas we had, and developing others so that they could be feasible, then started working on physical layouts for the shop. We split the students up into 5 groups and asked them all to develop a potential layout for the shop based on what we’d discovered so far.

Now, we all know the more realistic the prototype, the better it works. So, to test out out ideas, we built a scale model of the space with partitions, chairs and tables. This gave a real sense of scale, and let us see how people moved around the space to interact with different spaces within it. Not going to lie, this was the most fun part of the whole weekend.

We went through each of the 5 designs and took the best parts of each of them to iterate the layout and develop it further, until we were finally happy with a single layout.


Using this prototype, I developed a plan of the shop layout, and using feedback from people in local communities, I’ve been developing services to help people can engage with Pontio in a meaningful way.

Hopefully, this will just be the first step. No design is perfect, and it’ll need to iterate in future, but I look forward to seeing how it comes to fruition when it’s created in the shop. I’ll try to keep you all posted on how it goes.