Comprehensive digital signage design, installation and management services.
Comprehensive digital signage design, installation and management services.

Evolving placemaking: using digital technology to create vibrant spaces

Digital signage in Time Square, New York

In today’s bustling world, where trends come and go, placemaking stands out as a key topic that remains a major talking point within the retail, leisure and property sector – and for good reason.

It makes good financial sense for real estate owners, business owners and managers, and brings positive benefits to communities. 

Placemaking, like every other aspect of our lives, is being changed by digital technology. Throughout this article we’ll  highlight the ways in which digital signage can contribute to the creation of vibrant, busy, positive spaces. 

What is placemaking

Before we look at how placemaking is changing, we first need to understand what it is.

It is the art of turning spaces into vibrant environments that people not only want to visit once, but keep returning to. It is the bringing about of positive socioeconomic change by using places in a better or different way.

At its core, placemaking is a multi-faceted approach to planning, designing, and managing public spaces that offer long-term benefits to the communities they’re based in.

Initially, the term was associated with planning public spaces, but the art of transforming ordinary spaces into extraordinary environments that resonate with people and simultaneously solve problems has caught on in the commercial world too. Businesses, especially those in the leisure and retail sector, have an incentive to create spaces that people actively want to spend more time in.

Let’s explore what placemaking entails and delve into its four key types:

  1. Community-based placemaking: This type of placemaking centres around involving the local community in shaping public spaces. It encourages collaboration, creativity, and a sense of ownership. Community-based placemaking often includes community gardens, murals, and interactive installations. By celebrating local culture and heritage, it fosters a strong sense of identity and pride.
  2. Event-driven placemaking: Event-driven placemaking capitalizes on special occasions and gatherings. It transforms spaces temporarily to accommodate festivals, markets, concerts, and other events. The aim is to inject vibrancy, draw crowds, encourage people to be sociable, and create lasting memories.
  3. Economic Placemaking: Economic placemaking focuses on revitalizing areas and creating opportunities for businesses and people to thrive. It aims to attract investment, boost commerce, and create jobs. This type often involves strategic partnerships with businesses, entrepreneurs, and investors. An example could be converting unused retail space into a mixed-use space to draw people to the area, and in doing so, increase the popularity of it and subsequent demand from businesses for space in the area.
  4. Green Placemaking: Green placemaking emphasizes sustainability and nature integration. It involves adding green spaces, parks, and natural elements to urban environments – e.g. rooftop gardens, small green spaces, and tree-lined streets to enhance residents’ well-being, and promote environmental consciousness.

 

The link between placemaking and digital signage

In the post-pandemic, post-lockdown world, people are increasingly seeking out in-person experiences. They want a renewed sense of community, excitement and enrichment through the enjoyment of physical locations. Real estate owners and businesses need to acknowledge this and respond accordingly, or lose out.

Turning a space into a sought-out place can be a daunting task though. Carving out a go-to destination, a place that people want to visit time and time again, isn’t easy. It can take time and money. Thankfully there are ways to accelerate the process.

At Saturn Visual Solutions, we’ve worked with countless leisure operators, retailers, public transport providers, and other businesses and seen first-hand how a sense of place can be fostered in spaces of all shapes and sizes.

Digital signage can be a useful tool for placemaking. Simply because it’s dynamic and can be used in multiple ways to achieve different things.

There are three key ways to use it for placemaking – place branding, injecting fun and engagement, and inclusivity.

Place Branding

Place branding is a critical aspect of placemaking. It’s about shaping perceptions, expectations, and emotions associated with a place.

Effective branding transforms a location into more than just a physical space—it becomes a destination that people want to experience. Consider iconic places like Times Square in New York or Covent Garden in London. Their brand identities evoke excitement, energy, and people choose to travel from all over the world to visit them.

But branding or rebranding a space isn’t easy. Where does the place start and end? What should it represent to people? What should they expect from it? What behaviour and activities are encouraged/discouraged whilst there? Digital signage can use words to clarify an understanding of the space, and imagery shown on displays can galvanise a specific ambiance and mood. It can be used to stamp a clear brand presence throughout a space, making it clear where the physical boundaries are. If necessary, it can also make it clear what behaviour is and isn’t appropriate within that space.

Outside of practical considerations, digital displays can also be used to draw attention to an area’s history and make visitors feel like they are a part of its evolving story.

Injecting Fun and Engagement

Video wall at an ODEON cinema in Bournemouth

People will avoid spending time in boring places. Digital displays can be used to not just draw people into a space, but also to create stimuli within it (or direct people’s attention to other types of stimuli).

Digital displays can be used in various different ways to inject fun into a place. The four most common are:

  1. Interactive Displays: Imagine a digital screen that invites passers-by to play a quick game, or solve a puzzle related to the place. It’s not just entertainment; it’s an opportunity for education and engagement. Examples could be a trivia quiz about local history or a virtual scavenger hunt to encourage people to explore.
  2. User-Generated Content (UGC): A key element of placemaking is encouraging people to feel part of and take pride in it. Digital signage can enable visitors to share their experiences, either by giving feedback, making suggestions, encouraging them to share photos, or showing specific social media pages and showing UGC. Not only does this foster a sense of community, but it promotes the space/event organically. It also gives visitors new ideas of things to do when revisiting the space, and can help those responsible for it to make ongoing improvement and tackle any emerging issues before they take hold.
  3. Event Promotion: Digital signage can showcase upcoming events and drastically increase awareness and community involvement in them (e.g. advertising a music festival, sporting event or family day). By keeping visitors informed and excited about forthcoming events, you’ll draw them to the space more frequently and reinforce the benefits of visiting it.
  4. Wayfinding and Navigation: Large spaces can be sprawling, and visitors often feel lost. Without guidance, they can miss out on opportunities to experience the best things that the space has to offer, leaving them feeling disappointed. Digital signage can provide clear directions, maps, and highlight points of interest, improving the visitor/user’s experience whilst within the place.

 

Supporting Inclusivity

Placemaking is about inclusiveness and creating spaces that serve everyone equally. Digital signage can support inclusivity in three key ways:

  1. Accessibility Features: Digital screens can be used to provide audio descriptions, subtitles, and high-contrast visuals. Interactive contact can be adjusted to different heights, making it easier for wheelchair users to access information. It can also be used to tailor wayfinding routes for the mobility impaired.
  2. Multilingual Information: Digital signage can be used to not just show basic information in one or two different languages but, via touchscreen displays, it can deliver the same experience (e.g. interactive puzzles, educational materials, safety instructions) in a range of different tongues.
  3. Community Engagement: Because digital signage is dynamic, it can be used to involve the local community in initiatives. You can use it to showcase lots of different people’s stories, experiences, artwork, and cultural heritage, encouraging engagement and a sense of ownership from all areas of the community. It can also garner support for the initiatives, encouraging as many people as possible to take part.

 

Conclusion

Placemaking is more than just physical design; it’s about creating emotional connections. Digital signage can form an important part of placemaking strategy and transforming ordinary spaces into extraordinary destinations.

Every corner of the public realm has the potential to inspire, engage, and uplift. So, whether you’re a shopping centre manager, an entertainment complex, or a cultural hub, we would encourage you to let digital signage be your ally in crafting memorable, positive experiences and fostering inclusivity.

 

To learn more about how digital signage and creative content can be used to help turn a space into a popular place, please get in touch and speak to our team.

 

NB: this article was written with assistance from AI technology.

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