Designing a Playground: 6 Most Common Mistakes

We’ve worked side by side with clients over the years helping them create the play space of their dreams. Through that time we’ve collected a lot of insight from our experience in the industry and have seen many people make the same mistakes when they are designing a playground and more often than not, these mistakes cause quite a few issues when they come to building their space.

This week we’re going to explore the 6 most common mistakes made when designing a playground, and the things you should know about and be on the lookout for, so you don’t make them.


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1. Often the user experience is overlooked.

When designing for a playground you should keep the end-user in mind. Visualise how the space is going to be used in the future. In this way, you can avoid any safety issues or discomfort that might arise and cause friction. Some things to think about are:

  1. Is there enough shelter from the wind?
  2. Are there enough seating opportunities for the users?
  3. Is there enough shade and is it in the right place?
  4. Will the surfacing get hot in direct sunlight and burn hands and feet?
  5. Is the slide facing north? If so, it might get very hot in the sun.

2. The budget is not clear

We’ve seen plenty of concepts and designs that were started without a discussion on the budget allocated for the project. Having an unclear budget can many cause issues down the track and result in disappointment when the concept you love turns out to be out of reach. It can also create delays ad problems when it comes to installation, causing corners to be cut that end up compromising quality and safety. This is why it’s important to agree on a budget from the very beginning stages of your project. Some things that get overlooked when budgeting include:

  • Site set up and security.
  • Demolition and disposal of demolition work.
  • Removal and dumping of topsoil.
  • Any retaining walls that need to be built to level the site.
  • Level and compaction of any base work.
  • Drainage requirements to collect and drain any surface water.
  • Services like power, water, gas, etc that might run through the site.
  • Supply and installation of shade.
  • Landscaping, pathways, and planting.
  • Cleaning and rubbish removal.

3. Non-compliance Issues

NZS 5828:2015 covers a lot of details about the guidelines and standards that need to be followed. But here are a few areas that often get missed:

  • Has sufficient safety surfacing been provided to cater for the different heights of the equipment?
  • Is there sufficient spacing between the equipment and hard surfaces to provide the required fall zones?
  • Has the design been thought through in terms of potential entrapments and any associated risks?

4. Overlooking the need for inclusive equipment and making the playground accessible.

A decision needs to be made early in the design process about whether the play space will need to be accessible for all abilities. In this way, you can allocate your budget accordingly to account for appropriate features such as accessible play equipment, and safety surfacing. When designing, here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Do you have a range of equipment that can be enjoyed by various abilities?
  • How many inclusive play types do we have?
  • Can the inclusive play equipment be accessed by those that require mobility assistance?

5. Lack of flow and connection through the space.

Creating a sense of flow in your play space helps to bring a sense of wholeness to your area. Making sure there is a connection between different elements in the playground doesn’t just make the place look well thought out but also makes the life of the users easier and their experience more enjoyable. Some things to look out for include:

  • Are there sufficient site lines around and through the space to maintain supervision?
  • Is the equipment arranged to provide graduated challenges?
  • Are there subconscious entry and exit points with logical flow between them?
  • Is the equipment too spread out? This can make the play space feel quite empty and disjointed.
  • Are swings and other potentially dangerous elements positioned appropriately to minimize risk?

6. Sometimes the design is too focused on aesthetics.

Having a beautiful aesthetic is nice but focusing too much on the appearance of the space can sometimes jeopardise the play value. When designing a playground, you have to keep the experience and utility of the play area in mind.  Ask yourself, has an appropriate portion of the budget been allocated to maximising play value? As opposed to something not playable like an expensive fence or water feature? Thinking about the end-user and how they will use the space is key to making sure your project is fun and exciting.

To make sure you are well prepared, take some time and check which of these will impact your space. If you want to talk to someone or get further clarification on any of these, feel free to give us a call on 0800 000 334 or flick us an email.