On User-Centred Design and the Wrong Kind of Penguin

Lubetkin's Penguin pool: no more penguins - fidothe's photos on Flickr

A delightful letter to today’s Guardian contradicts the fashionable received wisdom of modernist architects as purists riding roughshod over the interests of users. Defending Berthold Lubetkin‘s 1934 Penguin Pool at London Zoo, his daughter Sacha writes:

I was astonished to read that “nobody thought to ask the penguins” about the design. My father steeped himself in literature about penguins; he consulted the specialists at the zoo itself, as well as Julian Huxley, Solly Zuckerman and other authorities.

… which, in the circumstances and barring the sudden appearance of a tap-dancing prodigy, seems about as good as he could have got in terms of user involvement. The letter goes on…

Now, alas, there are no penguins in the pool, because the zoo put burrowing penguins in the enclosure – and found, unsurprisingly, that they were unhappy there.

So that’s the answer: the design was great, it was just the wrong kind of user!

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