Digital narratives for place branding: the Barcelona case
Like many places around the world, the city of Barcelona is tackling new challenges and facing unprecedented issues. Throughout the last few decades —since the city’s Olympic Games in 1992— the city has been shaken by issues like its radical urban development, the gentrification of its neighborhoods, the policies towards migratory movement, and the loss of identity caused by the hyper-rationalisation of mass tourism —a theme that we tackled in an interview with the American sociologist who coined the expression the ‘Disneyization of tourism.’
Only in the last few months, the Barcelona brand has also been in the spotlight with international media because of its political identity, the lost opportunity to host the EMA, the citizens hostility to mass tourism and for the high levels of pollution, among other things. This is why, within the framework of the Master’s Programme at ELISAVA, we designed a course with the aim of creating an editorial project to help change the perception of Barcelona. Fleeing from its traditional one-sided story (paella, the sun, the sea, Barcelona FC, etc) the Digital Narrative project aims to strategically reposition the brand, creating a new perception of the capital of Catalonia.
Reshaping the perception of a place
In an era of flags, migrations, mass tourism, fake news, and nationalisms, the media has a duty to inform and develop a deeper understanding. In our times, if we hear only a single story about another person or country, we risk a critical misunderstanding. So many world cities are going through radical transformation and need to find a new way to communicate themselves. Creating narratives for a city, a region, a nation can help reshape global perception, in turn improving its ability to attract investment, enhance tourism, empower industries or simply change the way it is perceived internationally.
Why should we find new ways of narrating a place?
We asked the students to analyse the current situation of the Barcelona brand, to generate a clear picture of the recent history of the city, its current issues and potential problems, together with any opportunities for the future. Having carried out this research, they identified the theme they would treat and a strategic approach to their editorial project.
After defining a specific strategic plan, students would start to develop an editorial concept that tells the story of the city from certain angle, generating —through storytelling and art direction— content that attracts an audience and helps increase the brand’s digital influence. As well as achieving influence, the content needed to reach new audience segments. The final goal was to generate a digital editorial project that is both interesting and engaging in itself. Not as a way of advertising or promoting the brand, but as a journalistic tool that can be used to fight against prejudices, false perceptions, and communications mistakes.
“Digital narratives have the power to change realities, to uncover new ways of understanding a place and maybe even change civilian life. We ask students to remember this and to be bold: our timelines and feeds are already full of so many things that are not worth our time. Let’s aim for high quality projects.”
Vincenzo Angileri, teacher of Digital Narratives at the MDE Course
What is a digital editorial project today?
Over the last few years the publishing and communications industry has changed dramatically, and the boundaries of the professional figure of a designer have transformed accordingly. More than ever, a designer is called upon to be able to control many areas of a given project, anything from conceptualisation to final form. Losing touch with its previously specific format, the idea of an editorial project is much more open now and its potential is wider than ever. We asked the students to develop an idea as an editor, to commission collaborators and to create content as an art director, finalising as a designer. Besides conceptualising and designing, students will produce all the content of the platform, from photography to film, from illustrations to texts.
“I consider that the figure of the graphic designer as we know it has come to an end. It blew up. Today designers must be incredibly versatile and multitasking, and should be open to understanding how communication works.”
Albert Folch, co-director of MDE
Transformation through strategic thinking
The Strategic Planning course, held within the framework of the Master’s in Graphic Design at ELISAVA, was intended to set the basis of strategic planning behind any given brief. Besides specifically addressing the strategic thinking behind a branding project, the classes provide the students with the tools to develop any kind of project. Our method is based upon three main axes. The first step is Critical Thinking, as a way to question a brief, problem, or commission. Lateral thinking is a way of finding new solutions off the beaten path and exploring diverse answers to the very same question. Finally, the Strategic Thinking process sets objectives, positioning goals and targeting audiences, in order to develop narratives and a visual direction.
“Even if you have an outstanding creative idea, the best way to approach a commission is from a strategic viewpoint. This means your creative idea lands on solid ground and the commission is not only based on subjective personal criteria.”
Rafa Martínez, teacher of Strategy at MDG 17-18
On the one side, as the communication world changes, companies and organisations will increasingly start to realise that they need creative profiles that are able to design engaging, emotional, and strategic narratives. On the other side, young professionals and students should be aware about their new role as editorial designers and what the industry requires from them. An editorial designer is asked to be able to generate innovative concepts and ideas, to have a sensibility towards storytelling, and to have a wide understanding of digital strategies, art direction, social media, and how content is consumed by different audiences.
“We had to be versatile and to learn quickly, adapting to the same continuously changing environments found in the real world. It was great to have total control over how the project developed, delving deep into an abstract, philosophical concept before moving towards the design elements.”
Bis Turnor, former student from the MDE 17
This is an ongoing project page and it will be constantly updated.
You can follow the activities of the course on Instagram @folchstudio and @graphic.elisava