It's hard to get good advice when you're visiting a new city. Yelp is anarchy; books are out of date as soon as they're published. Most travel apps are horribly designed. So these designer-made neighbourhood guides are an especially welcome resource.
A few weeks ago, a promising new guide to New York City was released by the Brooklyn design firm Hyperakt. Today, the firm's launching a guide to LA and revealing the 15 cities that they will be rolling out weekly.
On the Grid describes itself as the "designer's neighbourhood guide", where local design firms contribute personalised descriptions for their favourite places. Hyperakt pairs their words with nice photos and maps, categorises them with a family of icons, and creates lovely illustrations of local landmarks. All the content is web-based, but the picks scale nicely across devices, making it as easy to use as an app (maybe even easier).
Just checking out the LA content I was happy to see such a great representation of neighbourhoods and diverse selections ranging from quirky architecture to dive bars. These are clearly for more than just tourists, it's also a great way to learn about where you live.
The project began with Hyperakt tapping friends who worked at other studios around New York City to contribute picks from their neighbourhoods for the ultimate guide to New York. But when people in other cities started reaching out to participate, they decided to create a more formal system to help expand globally.
Now Ambassadors in each city reach out to their own network of local designers to create the guides, says Deroy Peraza, creative director of Hyperakt. "They help us find the best curators for each city and extend our reach far beyond what it would be if we were taking on every city by ourselves."
Since you can see the designer who's behind each pick (which is great publicity for the designers, of course) it allows you to get a truly personalised view of a neighbourhood — and I suppose you could even contact the Ambassadors during your travels if you wanted to meet up. But one thing quickly becomes obvious across all the cities: Designers have good eyes for detail and tend to make especially good tour guides.
"As designers our job is to be curious and to know the best stuff that's out there in every realm," says Peraza. "We place a high value on quality, on attention to detail, on authenticity and on storytelling. These are all important traits of good brands and they also happen to be important traits in the places we frequent. We may not be food critics and we may not be travel writers, but we definitely have a point of view on the best places around us."
Although the usual suspects like LA and London are rolling out in the next few weeks, Peraza thinks people will be pleasantly surprised by the diversity of cities they have chosen to launch with, like Dublin, Nairobi and Charleston, South Carolina. The cities that were picked were the ones that people expressed interest in, and Peraza says going forward the growth will be organic based on demand. "This is a global collaborative effort, so we want to encourage people who want to be neighbourhood curators or city ambassadors to reach out to us so we can keep growing On the Grid."
Currently Hyperakt is bootstrapping On the Grid's development, with designers contributing their expertise for free, but the plan is to secure sponsorships and sell city-themed merchandise to help fund the project. A series of prints will be available soon and they look just as delightful as the guides themselves.