Tricia Austin is a design consultant and academic and is currently Course Leader for MA Narrative Environments at Central Saint Martins.
Her research interests include the theory and design of multi-sensory, interactive, narrative environments, physical and/or virtual spaces that tell stories or allow stories to be told, such as exhibitions, branded and leisure environments or urban and community environments. She has developed integrated cultural approaches to placemaking, urban development and holistic approaches to city branding. She has curated exhibitions and written about the relationship between narrative and spatial theories, user-centred and participatory design.
Narrative design principles for city repositioning provide ways for city identity to be researched, framed and enacted by multiple stakeholders, each contributing their perspective to an unfolding story. This is a discursive yet unifying approach that takes a strategic, long term view of culture-led city regeneration. Success depends on creating a synergy between city government, aligning the city narrative to its economic, social, environmental and political strategies, but also hinges on including local businesses, communities and individuals through joint decision-making and creative action. Functional and economic goals then align with residents’ imaginations and sense of belonging.
You can’t impose a brand on a place, it needs to grow from a place and its unique characteristics. New narratives and cultural initiatives often emerge from the tensions and dramas of place transforming obstacles into assets, after all artists and designers thrive on grappling with issues and dilemmas. However home grown artists need home grown audiences. Together they produce an internal cultural dynamism that can be long lasting compared to one-off festivals dropped in from elsewhere. Core cultural activity also thrives through links and exchanges with likeminded international networks. A distinct cultural identity positions a city to play a role in global cultural activities and, if driven by the specific drama of place, the city’s culture should retain its unique identity and enable the city to become a cultural magnet on the world stage.