Graphical communication in planmaking

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Following the publication of a report on graphical communication A+DS has facilitated a series of workshops to consider how the graphic content of plan making might be improved.

Prepared by MATRIX / Urban Graphics and jointly commissioned by the Scottish Government, Strategic Development Planning Authorities and A+DS, the study Graphical Communication in Strategic Development Plans explores how place based planning can be expressed visually; recognising that a plan needs to be easily understood and accessible to a range of users, including the wider public.

The work is particularly relevant in light of the Scottish Ministerial statement regarding the next steps of planning reform which identified that plans should be about ‘people and place’ rather than policy compendia; that there should be greater use of graphic communication in planning, with submissions being clear and accessible to all stakeholders; and which committed to an agenda that focuses on collaborative place making.

The principal conclusions from the report are that graphics need to be considered from the outset (with the aim of achieving a roughly equal split of graphics to text), and that the graphic technique of ‘storyboarding’ can be a useful aid to structure the scope and content of the plan, and assist in developing a brief for its graphic content.

The series of facilitated sessions reflected on case studies from across the UK and Europe, and critiqued plans against 6 criteria:

  • Place: is the plan rooted in appreciation of place identity?
  • Vision: does the plan convey an inspiring vision?
  • Focus and hierarchy: does the plan communicate the scale, location and priorities of change?
  • Richness: is there a three-dimensional richness to the plan that makes it come alive?
  • The Story: does the plan explain the rationale – Analysis > Strategy > Delivery?
  • Scalar: does the plan span the scales – from strategic to local levels?

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Feedback from workshops has included:

  • the need for a clearly expressed graphic vision located upfront in the plan (traditionally plans tended to locate key diagram or illustration towards the end as if to reflect a linear process of survey > analysis > PLAN; thus substantiating and justifying the eventual outcome)
  • understanding that information needs to be accessible to different audiences, at different times, for different purposes (i.e. community groups; house builders; etc … and those involved in development management)
  • text can be a barrier to engagement for some audiences
  • graphics can make a plan easier to navigate
  • graphics (photos, diagrams, etc) should be meaningful and relevant – not padding
  • different graphic techniques are required to engage different stakeholders at different stages in the plan making process
  • the possibility for electronic hyperlinks to provide access to nested information; with the plan becoming a portal to access information – which raises an interesting debate about ‘what is a plan?’
  • the challenge of reconciling a legacy of historic decision making; be visionary and forward looking to focus on what needs to happen to ensure positive change
  • the opportunity for a common approach to enable consistent read across plans; that nevertheless respects individual branding of plans
  • the potential for storyboarding to tell a process (i.e. how to make the plan + how to make a plan from considering what the graphic content might look like) and convey a story of change

The research took advantage of the fact that Scotland’s four Strategic Development Plans were at a stage where there was an opportunity to reflect on how good practice might be shared and to identify where there was scope to improve their graphic content and consider where a greater degree of consistency may be desirable. The final report provides a useful resource to think about how graphics may be considered from the outset of the plan’s inception; with a flowchart suggesting how graphics and plan production might be integrated, and guidance provided about different categories of graphic, and other practical considerations. A key finding is around the use of storyboarding as a method to structure a narrative around a clear and compelling story of change, which can also help to allocate resources at the right time.

The ‘storyboarding’ process was trialed at workshops and found helpful as a

practical exercise in enabling the production of the LDP”, and “a new way of presenting information … [that]… inspired action!

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