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Q&A with Mark Janetzki,
creative director at Diadem

Mark Janetzki is the creative director of Diadem’s design studio. With more than 30 years’ industry experience, Mark has helped people navigate through and engage with space across the Asia Pacific, Middle East and Europe.


Responding to community needs and ensuring universal accessibility are at the core of Mark’s design approach. He believes human-centred design strategies are the key to creating successful navigation systems.

Alongside fellow leaders in the built environment, Mark recently joined a Melbourne Design Week panel titled, Collectivity Talks: People-first cities, to explore ways to help people live, work and move better in cities.

We sat down with Mark to discuss the concept of people-first cities and the importance of fostering community and connection through design in the post-pandemic world.

What do you think a people-first city represents?

Last year helped me define what was important to me. When I distilled it down, it was connections with people, whether that be virtually or with my family at home. It was also the simple things like having access to fresh air and natural light, hearing the birds outside, and getting to know my barista by name. When everything else was taken away, that is where I found comfort.

People really searched out community and connection during lockdown. The footpath became a community hub. I think connection, community and nature are the ingredients people look for in a city.

Are you noticing any design trends in your work post-pandemic?

There is the desire for more biophilic environments. People want green space. When I consider the design language and aesthetic of the work we do now, compared to 20 years ago, it is moving in a more sustainable and user-centric direction.

At Diadem, we have always taken a user-centric approach to our work. In every project, we examine how people experience space, how they navigate space, and where they make connections.

I believe good design is being empathetic; it always responds to the human condition and always considers the people that are going to be using the space. You could say designers are optimists as they’re always working toward a better future. We are continually evolving and responding to the conditions before us.

What role does Diadem play in designing people-first spaces?

Our work focuses on navigation which includes connecting people to destinations, helping people to understand the cityscape, and activating spaces to make them more usable.

When Diadem is engaged during the early stages of a project, we have the most impact. For example, during the formative stages of the $3.6 billion Queens Wharf redevelopment in Brisbane, Destination Brisbane Consortium engaged us to design a user-centric wayfinding solution. This meant we were able to apply a user-experience filter on design conversations from the outset and ensure each space could be easily understood by all user groups.

We see every project through a first-time user lens. Our wayfinding solutions are designed with the first-time in mind to ensure each space can be easily navigated and understood. There are many other user groups specific to each project that our solutions need to respond to as well. For Queens Wharf, user groups could include people shopping, staff arriving or navigating the site, and suppliers delivering goods.

What role does Diadem play in bringing community hubs to life?

For every project, we develop a deep understanding of the local demographic and how they engage and interact with space. We consider how people arrive at the site, whether it is by private vehicle or public transport. We then define user groups and design a visual language that can be universally understood. We love to lean into our creativity to activate space and foster a sense of community.

Over the past 10 years following the devastating Christchurch earthquake, Diadem has worked in the city. Noticing the freestanding poster bollards were one of the only things that remained intact post-quake, we collaborated with New Zealand street poster experts, Phantom Billstickers, to turn them into emergency response hubs. We filled them with water bottles, ladders, first aid kits and other essentials for first responders.

This project delivered more than a physical solution. We repurposed existing infrastructure to provide quake-proof essential resources in a creative way. We are incredibly proud of this project and the contribution it makes to the community.

How has wayfinding and signage design changed over the past 30 years?

When I first entered the industry, our work was called ‘signage and graphics’. It was heavily driven by architects and quite often responded to the aesthetics of the architecture. Today, the focus of our work lies on empathy and the needs of end users. Otherwise known as ‘wayfinding’.

Redirecting the emphasis from aesthetically pleasing physical outcomes to information systems that respond to end-user needs, wayfinding has had a profound effect on the industry. While a facility’s architecture and aesthetics remain a key driver in the design process, the word wayfinding has catalysed the integration of human-centred design principles into our outcomes.

Design has always been about people but the key shift I have noticed throughout my career has been the commitment to the end-user. It’s always about putting people first.


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