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Cardiff Central Market - Redesigning the historic Cardiff Market experience

Tourism & Retail
The Greenhouse – service design by PDR
Service design by PDR (International Design and Research Centre)


Every six months, PDR, International Design and Research Centre at Cardiff Metropolitan University, delivers The Greenhouse – service design and innovation training course for public and third sector managers. As with all editions of the Greenhouse, the experience is built around a live challenge faced by a local public or third sector body. For the Spring 2016 course, PDR partnered with The City of Cardiff Council and focused on the historic but rather tired Central Market.
Cardiff market is a significant asset to the city and is located right at the heart of the commercial centre and on the tourist routes. The grade two* listed building (meaning “a particularly important building of more than special interest”) was built in 1891 and was home to one of the first Penny Bazaar stalls that later became the retailer Marks & Spencer. However, over recent years a lack of investment and a confused identity have reduced its footfall and the market is now struggling to adapt to modern shopping habits and attract the attention of visitors.
For three days, public sector innovators from The European Central Bank, Northern Ireland Innovation Lab, UK Treasury, Irish Institute of Public Administration and UK Cabinet Office were applying PDR’s User-Centred Design methodology and tools to solve a challenge posed by Tye Whithear, Estates Manager for the Council, ”How can we increase footfall and spend in Cardiff Central Market?"

How design helped

Participants started with planning their user research study based on the Market challenge and then put the plan into practice by visiting the Market and interviewing both stall holders and customers. They split into three groups, each one focusing on a different aspect of a challenge, and used a variety of techniques, for example, observation, contextual interviews, eye tracking and mystery shopping to further explore the problem. During a de-brief, the whole group discussed their findings and insights to build a shared understanding of the main issues they were addressing.
The team then began to turn the insights gained from their primary user research into ideas for new services and innovations. PDR’s service and policy team assisted the participants in applying a selection of ideation methods and visualisation tools to quickly bring the ideas to life. The participants were encouraged to actively develop these ideas and were instructed how to plan, set up, run and manage prototype tests in the Usability Lab and by using public trials.

At the end of the course Tye Whithear (the client) from The City of Cardiff Council returned to PDR to hear about the participants' research, ideas and proposals addressing how the market could improve the pressing issues of both footfall and spend. All three groups presented service prototyping plans, storyboards and implementation roadmaps detailing their concepts.



The ideas presented ranged from ‘things to do right now’ such as better on-line and social media presence, footfall counters and customer experience feedback points to better capture the data about the Market’s use, to longer-term strategies for the future. The insights gained from interviews with tourists and a service safari to the tourist information and tourist destinations around the market revealed that there was no guidance to and information on the Cardiff Market as the potential tourist attraction. Therefore, the team came up with the ‘Market Trail’ idea to signpost tourists from the major attractions such as for instance the Cardiff Castle to the market. The Market Trail could also be advertised on the tourist hop on/hop off buses and through leaflets in the tourist information.

Additionally, a pop-up stall at the front of the market was suggested to showcase the produce on the street or organising ‘Meet the Maker’ Days to encourage passers-by to step inside. The longer-term strategies included how funding could be sought, the tenants’ contracts, new policies and re-engineering the building itself. A major renovation project was proposed building on the Cardiff Market’s historic architecture and prestigious location in the city centre to turn the Market not only into a centre for the community and visitors, a social and architectural landmark, but also into a highly profitable business and revenue generator.
After the Greenhouse, the City of Cardiff Council commissioned a strategic marketing advisor to create a social media strategy and fully manage the Cardiff Market presence on Facebook and Twitter. In the first month, a new themed content strategy on the Facebook profile brought 152% increase in engagement and 268% increase in new page likes, suggesting an increased awareness and footfall with many members of the public saying they will visit as a result of seeing visually striking imagery of the food, the people and the culture.

A new Twitter account gathered 560 followers and 140,000 impressions in just a month, reaching new audiences. Also the feedback on the new social media presence from the market traders has been overwhelmingly positive. Further promotional activities are planned to attract more customers and put the Cardiff Market firmly on the tourist map. These might include creation of a standalone user centred website and implementation of a live even.