City of Eugene / Parking Services

Human-Centered Design / Research / Creative Direction
The City of Eugene’s Parking Services Department was looking for help in re-envisioning what their department could become. What they did versus how they were perceived by the public was taking its toll on the staff, and their director wanted a new framework for thinking about who they were. He envisioned his team as being "ambassadors to the city", and wanted a way to explain what that could look like to the higher-ups.
This project was part service design, part brand audit, all tangled up in a speculative future. It resulted in a conceptual outline for shaping the department, and a strategic map for implementing innovative ideas going forward. A visual brand audit of fleet and parking garage graphics was also completed, supported by recommendations for unifying and improving customer touchpoints via a story-based mural concept.
This was one of those wicked problems that had no specific solution, and I wanted this project BAD. It was way outside any standard identity or web design client work I typically did, but fell heavily into the arena of design-thinking that I had been studying. In fact, I deliberately used the project to actively apply what I was reading in Kees Dorst’s book “Frame Innovation”, as well as Helsinki Design Lab’s case study book “Six Stories about the Craft of Stewardship.”

Most residents don’t realize how much parking permits and fees pay for in our downtown area. Everything from parking infrastructure maintenance, taking care of planters and flowers in public spaces, paying for arts and culture events within the downtown limits, and even paying up to 80% of needed funds for the downtown Police staffing and resources. But all the average citizen knows is that “meter maids will give you a f#%@ing ticket!” Indeed, many of the officers had experience verbal and physical abuse.  In reality, parking services staff were also known to help someone with a stalled vehicle, or give pedestrians directions.

Their intentional focus was on educating folks about parking laws, and not writing tickets whenever they could. In fact, citations only accounted for around 6% of the department revenue. They are the one city service that was always "in the black", and almost all that revenue came from purchased permit parking.

Furthermore, the department director created a mandate to “spend the money where it’s earned” - meaning, put the money back into the city streets, parks and public spaces that it comes from. The good they provided the city was clearly out-paced by age-old perception issues and it was taking it's toll. They wanted a roadmap for a better future for their staff, and an effective tool for talking to City leadership as they continually worked to improve how they operated.
Research & Design
Wicked problems require a different approach to problem solving.
Much of my research was fairly straight-forward on the surface. I conducted individual team interviews with most of the Parking Enforcement staff, toured the parking garages and audited all of their brand graphics, print materials, and garage way-finding. Parking Services fulfilled many roles on the city streets so I researched other entities that address similar areas of work - law enforcement, social workers, city maintenance, museum workers, and tour guides to name a few.

The part that was not straight-forward, was how to create a new framework, or way of looking at who the staff was as human beings within the total scope of their roles. I needed to provide a structure they could live into, and this new creative vision needed buy-in from other stakeholders within a civic bureaucracy.

Part one involved taking in their department, learning about the extended fields that surrounded them - the public, other civic departments they worked with, and how the Parking Service department workflow ran into obstacles. What tools did they have? Which tools were working and which were not? And finally, were there any parallel organizations out in the world who did similar work but had a much better track record of positive interactions with the public?
I created a new framework based on and existing, successful example.
The closest related government department was Federal Park Rangers. Their responsibilities mirrored most of what Parking Services did - law enforcement (and writing tickets), but also education, tour guiding, and occasionally giving directions to those visiting the city. I outlined the parallels between these two agencies, and why the Parks Service had such a high favorability rating with the public:

The National Parks Service succeeds in public perception, largely because its mission is one of focusing on people and experiences. Therefore we recommend viewing any new direction through the lens of “customer first”. By focusing on the needs of the customer over policy enforcement, you can help ensure that the majority of your interactions with the public are supported by a unified purpose.
Part of the need within the department was as clear process for developing, and validating the time and investment of new ideas that would otherwise be met with red tape. I provided a structure for onboarding new initiatives that supported this goal of being “Ambassadors to the City” represented by a Meet vs Exceed Expectations flow chart.

We also developed language to help the department further their mission to provide funding for arts programming within parking garage spaces. They had already done some of this with success, and the programming the National Parks Services had developed provided further validation for this kind of initiative.
Finally, I did some creative direction and worked with visual designer Dan Schlitzkus to develop a graphic program to help improve the perception of the 5 parking garages around the downtown area. These graphics would also support way-finding through their color schemes and shared iconography that related to regional themes.  

Recommendations were made for their other branded collateral and fleet graphics. This information was secondary to the thrust of the overall project, but assisted them in prioritizing and budget development.
The final outcome was a 20+ page document of research and recommendations. In follow-up conversations with the Parking Services Director Jeff Petry, he told me the work we did together was beneficial in the following ways:

"The immediate impact was restructuring my thinking for the program and work done. The project aligned with rewriting job description, focusing training, and influencing candidates for open positions ... Your work is ingrained in my thinking for the program, especially around the state park rangers. A highly trained, professional, and customer oriented workforce that works remotely and not armed, seeking compliance through body language and words. It drives all my thinking for the project."

After a few years had passed, I checked in and asked if there had been a long-term impact as a result of the project:

"Yes, a total modernizing about what a parking officer is and can be. Eugene is on the cutting edge of community focused municipal parking service. We definitely do it differently here. Further, we went down a path of creating a “Neighborhood Services Officer” position that is similar to the [National] parks ambassador work but operates in the right of way. The NSO position would work with vehicles and camping on sidewalks and the right of way through conversation to get compliance, without law enforcement. We were not able to come to agreement with union representatives to make the project work and is currently on hold."

This is the nature of design-thinking and wicked problems. The number of stakeholders can make solutions difficult to roll out. Sometimes the impact is to provide a way to dialogue around present issues and provide new ways for those connected to think about change going forward. Even union reps.

In the end I would have liked to do more field studies or test experiences with customers. I did work with another city employee to send out customer email surveys. It was written and approved by the Parking Service director, but it became bogged down in red tape by other stakeholders. As a minor pivot, I did casual interviews with friends and colleagues who also worked downtown, regarding their experiences with parking services, and their knowledge and expectations of what the department was trying to do. This did help in validating basic assumptions I was making early on, but deeper research with customers could have turned up some innovative approaches.
It's all a part of learnin'
The results, follow-up, and long-term impact.

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