Notes and Notices

On art, architecture and design


A Focus on Human Capital: Humans of New York

Posted by Carren Jao Pineda |

*All photos and captions courtesy of Humans of New York.

Every architect and designer begins with one thing in mind: their end-user. As the rather aloof term suggests, there is an inherent danger in objectifying each user to the point that they become stale, flat reflections of reality. We can all imagine iPhone-obsessed, ultra-wired children, but do we make room in our minds for toddlers who still enjoy toting around a bus-on-a-string (as in the picture below)? Sometimes, we need a little nudge to remember humans are more than just simple stereotypes.

Humans of New York (or HONY) is a photographic census that strives to document all eight million residents of the city. Brandon has been at it for two years as of May 14. He's walked about 3,000 miles and taken 5,000 portraits, he reckons. Run by Brandon Stanton, the site has gotten raves around the web for its sympathetic, er...human approach. 

While Brandon's photos paint a picture of a vivacious city chockfull of characters, I would argue HONY's secret sauce is partially in the little anecdotes he shares alongside each photo. It's not enough to see an adorable father and child. My heartstrings get pulled now that I know Mike from Crown Heights opened up a little coffee shop on Franklin Avenue for his little daughter Zelda, and that a little growth chart on the shop's wall lovingly shows Zelda's progress through life.

We love seeing dogs with their owners, but we assume they do so for the pure joy of it. But sometimes, dog owners lean on their pets for emotional support to recover from post traumatic stress.

Brandon's photos remind us that sometimes what looks to be on the surface, isn't scrutinized. An intimidating mohawked and tatooed man could be the nicest person around.

The human element is the most perplexing and fascinating part of the design process. But it is an element that shouldn't be taken for granted. As urban planners design cities meant to bring all of us a greater degree of comfort, perhaps it would do them well to click through a few photos on HONY too.

Here's a recent interview with Brandon on Wall Street Journal. Check out his work on HONY's Facebook.


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