3 visual templates for placemaking

As a placemaker, you are constantly faced with the challenge of creating vibrant, livable spaces that meet the needs of the people who use them.

One way to do this is by using visual templates to help organize your thoughts and facilitate collaboration with your team and stakeholders. In this article, I will introduce 3 visual templates that you can use in your placemaking projects.

What is a visual template?

A visual template is a graphical poster that helps you organize and communicate information in a clear, concise, and visual way. Visual templates can be used to map out complex systems, document processes, or brainstorm and prioritize ideas.

Visual templates are collaborative tools: they typically include blank spaces to be filled in with information from the participants.

They are especially useful for placemakers because they allow you to engage the community and the different stakeholders.

When to use a visual template as a placemaker?

You can use visual templates at any stage of a placemaking or urban project, from planning and design to implementation and evaluation. Some examples include:

  • Gathering input from the local community and stakeholders. Understanding the needs, wants, and preferences of the people who use the space.
  • Understanding / analyzing a space (form and function).
  • Brainstorming and prioritizing ideas for activities, events, or interventions in the space.
  • Evaluating the effectiveness of a project, for example changes in use patterns, improvements in social connections, or increased economic activity.

Visual templates can be used outdoors in public space or inside (for example in a meeting or workshop setting), it depends on the situation and your objective.

3 visual templates for placemaking

Let’s unlock the power of visual thinking for your next placemaking project. All you need is a marker, paper, and the willingness to try something new!

1. The stakeholders map

What is it for?

A stakeholder map is a powerful tool used in various contexts. It is very useful in urban planning processes, to map the people and organizations who are involved in the project / place (whether it exists already or is yet to be designed). 

Stakeholders are mapped depending on their category (private, public, knowledge institutes, citizens and community groups) and proximity to the project. The more at the centre a stakeholder is, the more influence they have on the project. The stakeholder’s position might change depending on the project / place.

When can you use it?

You can use a stakeholder map at the beginning of a planning process, to identify the strengths and gaps in the network. It will help you determine the direction of future engagement efforts.

How to use it?

Draw this template on a large A1 poster or on a flipchart (alternatively, create an online version, for example on Miro or Mural).

  1. Identify stakeholders. List the user groups and local associations, the knowledge institutes, private companies and public organizations who are (directly or indirectly) connected to your project or place.

  2. Categorize stakeholders. Map the stakeholders depending on their level of interest and power. Are they key decision makers and partners in the project? Trust is critical when it comes to efficient collaboration. Are they “champions” or “cheerleaders”, willing to be involved or enthusiastic supporters of your efforts? Or rather challengers, resisting change? Are they actually there at all, or absent in the discussion / marginalized?

    You can also draw connections between the different stakeholders, to indicate specific relationships.

  3. Prioritize stakeholders. Create a plan on how to engage with the stakeholders. You can go and interview the users of the space. You can reach the “challengers”, listen to their concerns and try to heal the relationship. More importantly, you can identify who is poorly represented / not represented at all, and find ways to have them actively involved in the project.

A stakeholder map is a tool you can update throughout the whole planning process!


2. Place-based user interview template

What is it for?

User interviews are individual, in-depth live conversations with a user of a space. Through a set of questions you are guided to understand people’s experience of the space. User interviews are a great way to pin point opportunities and generate ideas.

When can you use it?

User interviews are best conducted during the diagnostic phase, when you evaluate an existing place or building. But they can be conducted throughout the life of the urban project to reevaluate people’s experience.

How to use it?

Reproduce this template on your notebook, or print it in multiple copies. Use one template for one person. Go out in public space and conduct interviews with strollers passing by, entrepreneurs who have their shop or office around the space, etc.

Try to interview a range of users as diverse as possible (you can rely on your stakeholder analysis for that!).

When back home, compare the interviews and draw conclusions: what is common, what is different?

A few things to note:

  • Prepare your interview and adapt the questions to your specific situation.
  • You don’t have to follow the questions strictly. Be open to where the conversation takes you!
  • Keep in mind that user interviews provide valuable insights about a space, but they are meant to be subjective (and reflect a personal experience). For a more comprehensive understanding of a space, take a look at The City at Eye Level form or the Place Game by Project for Public Spaces.

3. The apple tree matrix

What is it for?

Urban projects usually run for many years, which is frustrating for residents and users who would rather have immediate changes in their daily life. It is critical to use quick wins in urban projects: short-term actions that can make a difference, right now.

The apple tree matrix is a tool to help you do just that. You will be able to prioritize ideas, depending on their added value for the project and on how easy they are to be implemented.

When can you use it?

You can use it after a brainstorming or ideation session, when you have collected people’s ideas on how to improve or transform a building / place.

How to use it?

Write down on sticky notes the ideas you and your group have. Score each item based on its positive impact for the project (1: low added-value, 10: high added-value) and the amount of effort it takes to complete it (1: easy to implement, 10: hard to implement). Use the scores to plot the different items in the four quadrants of the matrix. Then, prioritize the highly productive “low-hanging apples” and the long-term projects “apples in the sky” (see the categories below).

  1. WORMY APPLES These are the “false good ideas” that bring little added value to the project, all while being resource intensive. Make sure to avoid those!
  2. FALLEN APPLES These ideas are easy to implement but have little impact on the project. Prefer the 2 next types of actions – or implement them if you have time and resources left.
  3. LOW HANGING APPLES Minimum effort, maximum impact! These ideas are easy to implement and immediately make a difference, without too much risk. Start with these!
  4. APPLES IN THE SKY Hard to catch, but delicious, these ideas have a strong impact on the long term, but they require more effort than the quick wins. Use them to fuel your long-term strategy.

Want to try out this tool? Download it and print it here!

By now I hope I have showed you that visual templates are a great way to support your placemaking projects and motivate effective collaboration with other stakeholders. I hope you will find them as useful (and playful) as I do.

Be inspired: use and adapt the poster ideas in this article according to your situation. If you want to create your own templates, I recommend you check this amazing book by Bikablo, the German masters of visual facilitation.

Would you like custom-made visual posters that are tailored to your urban project? Feel free to contact me!

Mathilde Riou

Mathilde is an urbanist and facilitator dedicated to change the way we make cities. She created The Urban Mycelium blog with the aim of revealing the invisible human dynamics that help the city grow better.

Sign up to stay updated and receive future articles!