App Insights

9 golden rules for digital placemaking in 2018

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Digital placemaking has the power to make a physical space come alive in a way that nothing else can. The past can be brought to life, the future can appear before your eyes or you might even find yourself holding a beating human heart in the present.

So what does it take to produce a powerful, emotionally engaging digital placemaking experience in 2018?

Here are our 9 golden rules…

1 – Have a clear vision

You can’t get somewhere if you don’t know where you want to go. Define what you want to achieve by asking the right questions. How do you want people to react to the space? What do you want them to do?

Clarifying your objectives helps to focus your project and give it perspective. Our work with Parkhive in collaboration with Bristol Parks Forum and the University of the West of England’s Faculty of Arts highlights how defining goals can lead to a successful and impactful digital placemaking project. The aim was clear from the start: to encourage people to visit Bristol’s green spaces. With this goal in mind, we created a GPS triggered mobile app which showcased the parks and green spaces in the city and provided users with useful information such as how to get there and what facilities were available.

2 – Keep it playful and engaging

The most important part of digital placemaking is the user experience: all projects should place people at their heart. The end user needs to be engaged, excited, interested, and projects should encourage them to be active participants in whatever it is you’re planning. Make sure you have a clear and engaging user journey, and give the participant as much information as they need to understand the purpose of the project, but as much autonomy as possible to keep them interested.

There’s an opportunity to create stories that haven’t been told before, or create relationships between people and place that weren’t previously there. As we’ve said before, technology is simply a delivery channel, the real challenge for placemaking projects is emotional connection.

3 – Give the power to the people

What’s the best way to establish how digital placemaking can enhance a space? Ask the people who use it and know it.

A crucial aspect of our Ideascape research project at Porth Teigr in Cardiff Bay was in bringing together local architects, planners, artists and urban designers for a creative workshop beforehand. Their insights were invaluable, resulting in a range of brilliant, creative ideas, from promoting local businesses to telling the rich history of the space. When working with public space, or spaces the public will interact with, collaboration and consultation are all important steps in getting it right.

4 – Be inspired

Understanding and exploring what others have achieved in the field of digital placemaking can be truly inspiring. Look around for projects which have something in common with yours to see how others have reimagined spaces. If you like something, why do you like it? Why is it so powerful? How have they enhanced the space? What approaches or methods have they used?


Read our 10 groundbreaking digital placemaking research projects from around the world for inspiration. Although they all vary in content and scope, each one aims to explore how the creative use of digital technologies can enhance people’s experience of urban space.

5 – Go in search of the truth

In a world where facts can be alternative and news is sometimes branded as ‘fake’, there’s a huge responsibility on heritage sites and regeneration projects to be as accurate, impartial and fair as possible.

Creating a narrative that’s relevant and engaging now is essential – but so is accuracy. Sites have a responsibility to represent the history of a place, or the people who once inhabited it, in the most honest way possible.

Read more about ethics and truth in heritage placemaking here.

6 – Question your own assumptions of a place

Everyone’s heard the maxim ‘history is written by the victors’. So which side of the story are you telling? Whatever your own assumptions of a place are, it’s important to explore it from a variety of angles. By offering an experience with a split narrative or more than one perspective, you allow people to ask more questions and ultimately make up their own mind.

Find out how you can tell both sides of the story and overcome the challenges of bias and fairness in heritage placemaking here.

7 – Collaboration is key

Two heads are always better than one, and when it comes to digital placemaking, creative collaboration can hugely enrich and strengthen both the process and the end result. Inside knowledge and expertise about a particular place or project are invaluable in producing an authentic, meaningful experience – and crucially, can provide insight into what the target audience really wants.

Find out more about the benefits of co-creation by following our partnership approach.

8 – Get multi-sensory

At its best, digital placemaking creates a strong emotional connection to a place. So how do you create that connection? Once you have your story, using appropriate spaces for added sensory elements like smell, sights and sounds can help to create a more immersive, connected experience.

By focusing on the overall emotional experience, digital placemaking projects can create magic moments that will stay with visitors long after they head out the exit.

9 – Embrace digital innovation

In an increasingly competitive market, the need for cultural experiences to be innovative, engaging and original has never been greater. Creating your own bespoke technical solutions helps you stay ahead of the curve. Investing in technological research and development will make you more agile, imaginative and ultimately help you create more effective digital placemaking experiences.

Find out everything you need to know about optimising digital innovation for cultural heritage sites by reading our in-depth white paper.

In the heritage sector, digital placemaking can transform spaces, add additional context to tours and exhibits, and encourage deeper engagement with the past. As storytellers, researchers and technologists, Calvium understands how to create rich and rewarding experiences for visitors. If you want to find out more, let’s have a conversation.