Restaurant patio permits

The city of Brno was planning to change the rules of applying for a restaurant patio permit and needed to communicate the change to restaurant owners. Initially, they asked KISK and its students to help with communicating the change, but we soon found out this was a completely different design challenge…

  • Activities – user research with the restaurant owners; desk research of the various permits necessary for putting up a restaurant patio; overview of the customer journey when applying for a restaurant patio
  • Deliverables – two-day workshop focused on prototyping a way of communicating the change to restaurant owners and helping them apply for a restaurant patio permit
  • Outcome – Six prototypes of services that would make applying for a restaurant patio permit easier.
  • Project duration – November 2015 – January 2016
  • Team – KISK (Laďka Z. Suchá & Jan Martinek as supervisors, Josef Kocurek, Maruška Ondrákšová and me as researchers), Libdesign & Pábení together with the city council of Brno

The process

In 2015, the city of Brno drafted a new set of rules on how restaurant patios should look. The purpose of these rules was to cultivate the public space by unifying the design of the patios and getting rid of disruptive ads, while also making the public spaces easier to navigate for all citizens. After the new rules were approved by the local government, the city asked the Division of Information Studies and Library Science (KISK) for help with communicating the new rules to the restaurant owners, since it was aware the division has experience with service design and projects in the public and third sectors.

After the initial meeting with the city council, the team proceeded with initial research – interviews with restaurant owners about the patios and the new set of rules. After a few interviews, it became clear that the relationship between the city council and the restaurant owners was strained. The owners felt that they had not been consulted enough, that the methodology went against their interests and that the language of the rules was contradictory. In addition, they said the process of applying was too much of a hassle that they had to go through every year, even though they had previously applied for the permit.

At this point, Libdesign (a student project focused on bringing design thinking to libraries using method cards) and Pábení (a design agency) joined the project. We knew that we could no longer change the new rules, since they had already been approved, and any changes would have to go through a lengthy approval process. Since the new rules went into effect in January 2016, we had to be fast if we wanted to make applying for a restaurant permit easier.

Libdesign and Pábení suggested that we could bring the city council members and design thinkers from various professions into one room, and have them cooperate on a solution that would help solve at least some of the issues the restaurant owners mentioned in the interviews. Our team of researchers prepared the materials from the research for the workshop, making sure the participants could use it without having to do any further synthesis of the results. We were also available during the workshop for any questions the participants might have had about the research and the insights from it.


The outcome

At the end of the 2-day workshop, the teams had come up with six ways of improving the process of applying for a restaurant patio permit. These ranged from a specialised website with the rules clearly explained to a form that would generate all the necessary sub-permits which could then be printed out and sent to the respective city offices. All of the outputs were given to the city council and as of June 2017, some parts of the process have already been simplified according to the needs of the restaurant owners. In addition, the city also focused on improving the communication with the restaurant owners and according to their own words, managed to calm down the tensions at least partially.

One thing I learned…

When I started working on this project, I was looking forward to going through the whole design process in the so-called real world, away from the sandbox university provided me with. I had no idea it would bring me the biggest lesson I have learned in design so far:

Design is not neutral. It cannot be neutral. When you design, you always stand for something.

I learned this while listening to the stories of the restaurant owners, who felt ignored by the city council and that the new methodology was rigged against them. Before coming to them, I listened to the point of view of the council members, telling me about how the restaurant owners would refuse to cooperate with them, and how some of them would resort to verbal abuse on the public debates about the new rules. And I noticed that nobody thought to ask the members of the public – those who would spend their time on the patios and see them everywhere around the city in summer – about their opinion on the new rules.

I wasn’t the designer in the project and I didn’t go through the entire design process like I planned. Instead, it left me with a legacy that has shaped me both as a designer and as a person. We cannot stand aside and act like design is neutral. We have to stand for something, and it is our responsibility as designers and as people to decide what do we stand for – and then act on it.