09 Jan 22

Design Principles for Public Digital Spaces

This report, by the New Public, outlines the qualities of public spaces that can help us design digital environments.

The mindset is tightly related to Jorge Arango's in Living in Information, since both borrow principles from architecture, urbanism, and placemaking and apply them to digital spaces.

Humans have designed spaces for public life for millennia – and there are lessons here that can be helpful for digital life.

Good public spaces, according to the report:

  1. Develop programming – social activities – that draw different groups in, without over-optimizing for any one group
  2. Offer cues as to what kinds of behavior are invited in the space
  3. Are designed to be physically accessible and attractive to many different populations
  4. Engage stewards, leaders, and maintainers who can do the labor of community-building
  5. Are designed in partnership with the communities that use them.

They grouped 14 signals (measurable qualities of good spaces) into 4 building blocks: They are in order of importance:

  1. Welcome

    • How can platforms keep people safe and be inclusive, especially for marginalized populations?
      • Invite everyone to participate
      • Encourage the humanization of others
      • Ensure people's safety
      • Keep people's information secure
  2. Connect

    • How can platforms foster communities and bridge social divides?
      • Cultivate belonging
      • Build bridges between groups
      • Strenghten local ties
      • Make power accessible
  3. Understand

    • How can platforms help us better communicate about our world and how to improve it?
      • Elevate shared concerns
      • Show reliable information
      • Build civic competence
      • Promote thoughtful conversation
  4. Act

    • How can platforms help us organize and take action?
      • Boost community resilience
      • Support civic action

From these 14 signals, they were able to derive scores for the major apps and platforms:

Table of scores for each major platform


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