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Design Thinking for a better curaçao



Much of our built environment is not planned out, but just organically developed to what they are today. Especially in Curaçao. Think about a road that has always been there; What was originally a goat trail ended up being a main road that connects the important neighborhoods on the island. Nowadays this road is congested every morning due to traffic, and all side roads connect to this single road. Of course, this could not have been foreseen when people started using the road. Now that we have the knowledge and experience, what can we do differently? How can consciously designing encourage long-term planning in order to help us create a better built environment that is not only more livable for us as citizens, but also more future-proof?


What is design thinking?

When mentioning design, most people think about fashion, art or designer products first, but design is everywhere; products, buildings, IT infrastructure, energy systems and transportation all rely on smart designs. Applying conscious designing to engineering fields means developing processes that improve the quality and efficiency of new or existing technologies and systems. Design thinking is a strategic process for creative and user-centered problem solving that not only solves complex problems but also creates value for the users. This strategy can be applied to many aspects of life.


Design thinking lends itself to solving complex problems. The principles of design thinking promote innovation, creativity, a user-centric approach, and out-of-the-box thinking. The principles of design thinking boil down to the next 5 points:

  • The user is central and their needs should be the starting point for the design

  • Collaboration within a multidisciplinary group which adds diverse perspectives and ideas

  • Solution-based approach where the quantity of diverse ideas is valued over few quality ideas during ideation

  • Testing on a small scale and improving on the ideas before making permanent big investments

  • A hands-on approach: learning by doing instead of discussing.


How can design thinking help create a more attractive and future-proof Curaçao?

Curaçao’s culture, geographic location, and history have influenced how its people and institutions function. This means that ‘copy-paste’ big European city solutions (or western solutions in general) don't always work for the island. We need a specific approach for our specific context to solve our specific and complex problems. We do not always have to reinvent the wheel. We can learn a lot from other islands and cities, yet it is vital to understand the differences in context and users and adapt accordingly.


A design thinking approach can help us to understand the context of the island. By making the people (referred to as users) that live and work in our neighborhoods the center point in the process, you can better understand how they operate, how they think, and what they think they need. Good research methods can also uncover the user’s latent needs, as not everyone is always aware of these. By involving the users early on, you build trust between you and the user.


Collaboration between all stakeholders, which adds multiple needs and disciplines to the mix, will ensure that the needs that are fulfilled don’t benefit only one or two parties, but everyone involved. It might take more effort, but in the end, the solutions are more inclusive and sustainable in the long term. It also helps to gain a better understanding of the context, which ensures that new or improved systems are well aligned and well functioning. Think about new IT systems, improvements in road infrastructure and buildings. If these don’t align, people's experience might not be improved at all or even worsened.


What would be different if we applied design thinking more often?

Let's take our road infrastructure for example. As roads on the island became more and more congested, multiple major intersections were changed into roundabouts to improve traffic safety and in some cases also to improve traffic flow. The Sta. Rosaweg roundabout is one example. After completion it turned out to be even more of an issue than the original intersection, causing traffic congestion and a lot of disturbance for the people that live in the area. It doesn’t seem like all important aspects of the broader context were taken into account; where are people traveling to and why do they take this road, what is the effect of two intersections very close to the roundabout, what is the effect on businesses and the people and hat live right next to the roundabout, but also, for example, one kilometer away? How is the amount of vehicles going to change in the future? With a project this big it is not possible to try things out in real life, which is where technology comes in. There are many traffic simulations that can simulate traffic flows situations that could have predicted the current situation. Combining design thinking with predictive models and simulations can be a powerful tool that allows us to quickly evaluate a large number of solutions and outcomes. Technology and design thinking can amplify each other, which results in much better integration of infrastructure improvements.


We all hope for a better future for our island. Instead of waiting for some kind of miraculous new technology to solve our problems, we can also focus on sustaining the quality of life of the people and the growth of our economy. How? By taking a design thinking approach.

Involve the people in the process to understand their needs and empathize. Collaborate with all important stakeholders; the residents, the government, small and medium-sized businesses, and tourism, where all parties can and should contribute ideas. The next step is to seriously evaluate the ideas by stakeholders, see what can work together well and test if and how they work together. If some of the ideas don't work, it is important to figure out why and adapt the ideas accordingly (don't give up too easily!). We don’t always need to wait for new technology or system to solve our problems. Sometimes we simply have to put more effort into researching what people actually need and trying out small scale solutions. Especially since our island’s population size makes it easier to try out concepts on a small scale. Small steps with low investments can help form a concept that makes a big impact.


Design thinking is not rocket science, just an inclusive approach that leads to a more sustainable built environment for Curaçao.

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