December 27, 2017

Playground Design 101: Designing through Listening

Listen Up!

This is part three of our three-part series on playground design. Read part one and part two, or request the free Blueprint for Play Toolkit to learn more about planning, funding, designing, building and sustaining a playground project.

Every good conversation starts with good listening! Now is the time for you to put those listening skills to practice and take it all in.

The design process can be as simple as gathering input at a community meeting to hand over to the playground vendor’s design team, or as elaborate as holding a series of interactive design workshops that engage the community in a variety of ways. No matter the approach, feedback is important to get community buy-in. So get that elevator speech ready and create a safe space for dialogue surrounding your project!

Need some inspiration to get the community together? Check out these great ways to get feedback and move your project along!


Public Meetings

Forums, workshops and focus groups are all great ways to invite the community to learn about your project and give attendees a voice. Here are some suggestions to make sure your public meeting is organized, comfortable, and productive:

  • Send invites to key stakeholders
  • Be clear about the goal, agenda, and timeline. Be respectful of participants’ time by sticking to it!
  • Create a room layout that is conducive to what you want. Will you be facilitating a group discussion? Break out sessions? Make sure the room works for the type of meeting you are holding.
  • Introduce yourself! Make personal connections and make sure people feel welcome and essential to the meeting. Their opinions are important, and it’s good to recognize them for taking time out of their day.
  • Have some technical experts at the meeting and introduce them. They can help you answer any questions about playground design, safety, licensure and standards, and possible given budget parameters.
  • Share any ground rules you have for the meeting that will keep the group on task.
  • Ensure no one person dominates the discussion by asking direct questions, encouraging body language, awareness of when participants want to speak but can’t break in, or limiting time per person during the discussion.


Design Workshops with Children

Get the kids in your community involved! By actively including children into the design process, you’ll strengthen your ability to get buy-in for your project. Choose a diverse selection of children from your community. Keep the content appropriate for the ages you’re talking with and you should have the format prepared to keep the kids on track.  Here are some things to ask:

  • What does play mean to you?
  • What are your favorite activities?
  • What are your favorite colors?
  • What do you like about nature?

Another great suggestion is to let kids draw or create what they want the playground to look like!


Design Charrettes for Adults and Stakeholders

Host a meeting with key stakeholders to come up with solutions. Start with a morning education course on best practices, followed by lunch so the participants have time to talk to each other about what they’ve learned. After lunch, it’s time for the design session! Discuss design initiatives and record your findings.



When public sessions aren’t an option, a survey is a great way to get feedback. It can be a printed version or you can get electronic feedback from the community using online forums, social media, survey tools, or an email address the community can use to communicate their ideas.


Report Outcomes

You’ve provided a great environment to listen and learn. From this information, you can make your playground come alive! Share findings with key stakeholders and use this feedback as grounds on which to approach potential funders, make the community’s needs known, and power to petition for a project that has multiple people’s support. Ask your vendor for those fancy computer-aided design drawings to help share your vision with the community!

Listening is an important skill. By leaning into it during the playground design process, you’ll engage the community and move toward your goal of creating a fun play environment for everyone. Keep your ears open and keep up the hard work. The end result is worth it!