Thorncliffe Community Market at ERA Architects

Made at

ERA Architects


Researcher & Physical Product Designer


User Research, Physical Prototyping



Project Overview

Located in central east Toronto, Thorncliffe Park is densly populated neighborhood, home of a wide range of cultures and newcomers to Canada. Our team worked with with the Thorncliffe Park Action Group (TAG), a dynamic collective responsible for the cultural café, as active participants of the Thorncliffe Community Market to design a series of market stands to be used during the event.

Research Sessions

"A few years ago we had a lot of wind, which ended up damaging some of the tents that we were using"

We quickly realized of the importance getting users involved during the decision making stages after we brought our assumptions to them and noticed that we had it all wrong. A few sessions later, we were able to recollect relevant aspects that allowed us understand which elements to prioritize and which were unnecessary. Features that we thought were very important, such as creating a shading canopy, were quickly discarded by the TAG group.

Guiding Principles

Although the meetings with the users was very informative we decided that we could not do them all. We decided narrow down our priorities and focus on what was more important for the users and what budget would allow us to accomplish:

  1. Design and build a stable structure, instead of using foldable tables, like they have done in the past
  2. Allow design to have customizable components, in order to allow the user to take ownership of the product
  3. The product had to be easy to repair, simple tools could be used to fix in the future if needed
  4. The stand should be easy to move and store

Product Configurations

We decided to create an L shaped stand that would allow for storage capacity, could be interlocked when stored and be versatile enough for different configurations in the park.

Building the Base

The design we ended up building was made out of wood and was meant to serve as a structural skeleton, with the intension of. The design had a minimal presence, giving us the opportunity to hand the structures over to the users at this point.

Building the Rest

Build half, let the users finish the other half

The users made the structures their own. Through the use of colorful fabrics — a very familiar and comfortable elements for them — they were able to transform, personalize and associate themselves to product.


Let the Users Take Ownership of the Product

The most important lesson from this project was to step back and let the user take the steering wheel. As designers, we tent to believe that we have all the answers for the users we are serving, but sometimes is it better to stop designing and allow them change the product to their own preferences.

All images displayed in this project are property of ERA Architects Inc.