Our tips on designing parks people will love – Part one

25 Sep, 2016 Blog, Design Tips

We have a saying at Vee Design that goes like this.

“People will never know how a place was designed, people will rarely know who designed it, but people will always remember how it made them feel.”

This simple saying really captures the reason why we design parklands for the community. The memories we take away from our time spent with friends and family in a great park will stay with us for a lifetime.

I still remember spending my school holidays with my cousins roaming the Sherwood Arboretum, climbing trees, fishing in the river, exploring the creeks and riding our bikes. Now, my memories focus around how my children enjoy parks. With so many children’s birthday parties now held in parks it is very likely that we have many great memories of our time spent in a park.

There are some parks that do better than many others at nurturing these great experiences. The same popular parks that are always crowded with birthday parties and family gatherings; but why? What makes one park so inviting and another not?

Here we share our top 10 tips with you to show how we design parks that are memorable – parks that keep drawing people back because it makes them feel so good.

1. Remember that Parks are for People

It sounds obvious, but when we get caught up in the daily grind of gaining approvals, managing budgets and addressing the endless coordination issues we are faced with, it is so easy to forget the end users and what they would want in their parks.

Start by understanding who the end users will be, why they will use the park, what time of the day will they want to visit, how will they get there and how long will they stay. Remember your own experiences in parks as a child, as a teenager, as an adult, as a parent; and draw upon these experiences when designing your park. Visit as many parks as you can and observe how people use them. We love visiting the many parks we have designed to watch how people interact in them, learning what works and what can be done better, understanding the social mechanics of how people engage with each other in parks.

parks are for people


The best parks are the ones that people make an emotional connection with, so if you do not know who you are designing for how can you possibly create a place that people will connect with.

2. Parks must be Safe and Comfortable

You would think that this would be number one on any park designer’s list of consideration, but it amazes me how many parks get built that people will not use because they feel unsafe or they are just not comfortable places to spend time.

There are some great resources available to assist in designing safe public environments. CPTED (Crime Prevention through Environmental Design) is a well-regarded set of principles and strategies that outlines how physical environments can be designed in order to lessen the opportunity for crime. I suggest anyone responsible for designing any public space should understand these principles.

However, when designing parks there are a great number of considerations that should be addressed in order to make a park safe and comfortable. Consider that people use parks all year round, so have ample shade (both structured and natural) as well as places to bathe in the warm sun in winter months. Consider prevailing breezes, provide for adequate seating in and around attractions and vantage points and provide access to necessary amenities such as water taps and toilets if appropriate.

3. Parks must be easy to access, be legible and promote a sense of Journey

Remembering that the journey, how you arrive at and move through a park, plays a significant role in the experience of a good park for people. Understand how people will get to your park and accommodate for all modes of transport. Not all people arrive by car, many walk, cycle, ride their scooters or push a pram. Good parks should be well connected to regional pedestrian and cycle networks to encourage alternative modes of transport.

The primary path at Southbank Parklands in Brisbane is easily identified by the flowering arbour


Movement within parks should be clear and legible. A clear path hierarchy supported by signage and other wayfinding elements will make it easy for people to navigate and find their way. Our parks should be accessible to people of all ages and all abilities. We must also respect users that may not be considered under the DDA (the Disability Discrimination Act), such as mothers and mother’s groups. We design our playgrounds with ample pram parking and provide generous shaded seating for mothers close to toddler play zones.

4. Parks should range in scale and offer flexibility

Great parks offer spaces that vary in scale, to cater for the individuals or the large groups, the introverted or the extroverted. Spaces that allow for open animated activities, but equally allow for those smaller protected or secluded spaces for people to retreat, sit back and observe.

Intimate picnic areas at Robelle Domain Parklands, Springfield


Spaces that allow visitors and groups to personalise and adapt to their short term needs. Understanding the relationship of these spaces to each other and how people use them at different times of the day or year is fundamental to the design of a good parks.

5. Parks should offer a diverse range of experiences and attractors

Parks are for people and they should keep people entertained, on both short stays and extended visits. This may range from passive through to active experiences.

Depending on the size of a park, its location, its context and its proximity to other parks; the range of experiences and attractors on offer may differ greatly. You may be designing a large regional park that will offer a variety of attractors and experiences that will keep visitors entertained for a whole day. Alternatively, you may be designing a small local park that offers a momentary experience as part of a larger connected series of parks and open space network. Understand how each park, regardless of size, can offer a different, yet complementary experience to the next. Every park regardless of size has the opportunity to offer a unique experience, often inspired by its location and context.

Weekend markets attract thousands of people to Robelle Domain Parklands


The successful parks of today also allow for flexibility. They allow their visitors to adapt their park spaces to suit their own recreational needs. There is a growing trend of community events, private functions, weddings and corporate gatherings occurring in our popular parks. However, it is not just large groups that seek flexible spaces in our parks. Families will often bring their own chairs, tables, gazebo structures, portable barbeques, signage and even jumping castles in an attempt to improve their own recreational experiences in a park.

Great parks will keep visitors entertained all year around, encourage night time use (where appropriate) as well as day time use, and encourage people to play and explore through imaginative, discovery and structured play.

“People ignore design that ignores people.”   — FRANK CHIMERO

Part one of a two part blog series

David Hatherly