Do you remember drawing your dream house as a kid? One with a ball pit, aquarium swimming pool and an un-architecturally-sound loopy slippery-dip? 

Or maybe you didn’t draw. Perhaps you entered a wonderland of colour and ideas inside your imagination. 

Stories surround us and have since the dawn of time. We translate and absorb them into our imaginations, musings, day dreams, and world view; we also translate them into real-world actions. We can spend our lifetime trying to untangle and understand our own personal stories – but that's perhaps a topic for another time!

As an illustrator, artist, industrial designer, and placemaking consultant at CoDesign Studio, I am here today to talk about creating authentic narrative. Narratives that connect us to others. Narratives that are visual, succinct, and lead to real-world change.

I have long been a fan of using photos, infographics and illustrations to present information that is accessible and easily absorbed by the intended audience. At CoDesign, I am frequently called upon to use my skills in visual design to communicate comprehensive information.

CoDesign Studio: Designing our People, Process, Place (PPP) diagram (Instagram: @menca_doodles)

A critical component of placemaking is seeing action match strategy; and implementation match planning. To create truly effective process for place creation, we must ensure that strategies are first of all read, and second of all understood in order to lead to the intended actions that are required to lead to measurable place outcomes.

Compelling and authentic narratives, communicated creatively, can be used to do exactly this.

Service Design specialists and UX designers know this power of illustrative storytelling. They understand visual communication to a tee and engage their audiences with clear information that is easily understood. (A good example can be seen in the video below).

In the work of placemaking, consultants are often navigating a complex environment of data, politics, best-practice, and stakeholders. There are waves of potential information from government officials and property developers, to planning departments and community engagement activities, from traffic engineer insights to architectural designs.

Placemakers produce and analyse a wealth of research, policies, plans and in-depth reports, and then the key is translating these into effective placemaking strategies and plans – But, how can you know that the reader has actually engaged with your content to begin with? What happens to the all-important actions if you already lost your audience at page 1, 5 or even 10? 

It is important to find a way for the core messages to be crafted and clearly communicated as these will eventually unlock the vibrancy and social capital of a place.

You may want to demonstrate that you have undertaken intensive, in-depth work to your clients, however they might scan over a really juicy compelling bit of information, or miss the point entirely.

This is where clear narrative comes in, and in my opinion there is no better place to start than with Pecha Kucha.

CoDesign Studio: Could you describe your place using 20 slides in only 20 seconds? (Instagram: @menca_doodles)

I always like to refer to Pecha Kucha – a presentation style in which you give a presentation with 20 slides in 20 seconds. Sound a little outrageous?

It’s a great challenge, as it forces you to edit, streamline your key messages, use punchy key words and engaging visuals to communicate simple or complex information.

It’s message is- Less is more. Yes! We have heard this many times before.

The same applies to visual information. Say for example you are an architect and work in detailed plans, with lots of plans to show each piece of design consideration.

Architecture speaks in the language of plans. It can be visual and highly detailed. You might want to show your client or audience that you have undertaken copious amounts of work, however flicking through 100 slides with detailed drawings might end up looking like ancient hieroglyphs, unclear to the untrained eye.

This is where drawing comes in. Yes! Back to drawing, or more specifically narrative.

CoDesign Studio: Ever been presented with 100 slides and no key takeaways? Present place narratives succinctly and visually to take strategy to implementation for placemaking.

We are creatures of stories with hearts and aspirations.

CoDesign has worked on a number of projects where we have illustrated ‘people’ doing things in ‘places’. It is the connective tissue, that binds the story of a place together, it is a personable approach, illuminating the daily lived experience.

The story needs to tell the ‘what’ but most importantly the ‘why’ to be most compelling.

CoDesign Studio: Creating compelling visual narratives to guide placemaking strategy into action, can unlock measurable positive impact on place outcomes. (Instagram: @menca_doodles)

Creative illustrative narratives are a powerful way to tell authentic stories of residents, developers, government, traders and all the people in between.

Written by Madeline Menca, Senior Placemaking Consultant, CoDesign Studio, Melbourne.