Visuals can be very effective ways of reaching many audiences with your smart activity.

The most effective stories about smart cities are those that engage people by showing issues and places that are relevant to them, rather than wowing them with technology or with images of perfect city streets. Most audiences are pretty sceptical about overly-glossy images: our research suggests that a bit of realism will actually convey your message more effectively.

  • Engage your audience rather than dazzle them with futuristic technology
  • Portray cities and smart tech realistically
  • Represent the diversity of contemporary society

Case Study

This case study uses the example of a video made by Nokia for Bristol’s smart city initiative, Bristol is Open.

The video features senior employees from the tech company Nokia, the digital arts and cultural centre Watershed and the smart city organisation Bristol is Open. It begins with some historical context, telling a story that links the city’s maritime history with today’s knowledge-based economy of culture and creativity. This is accompanied by archive footage of Bristol and its people from the local TV and arts organisation, the Knowle West Media Centre.

Picturing people and places – make it real

Who is seen and how they are seen makes a huge difference in a short film like this. Though no Bristol residents or citizens are interviewed, cutaway shots of recognisable Bristol landmarks are used. Public spaces are shown filled people going about everyday life and enjoying the city centre.

Bristol’s ethnic and cultural diversity is represented in the video. So is the diversity of its urban fabric.

The film captures the rhythms of the city, with flows of people moving along pavements as well as groups hanging out in the city’s squares. Bristol’s ethnic and cultural diversity is represented in the film. So is the diversity of its urban fabric. There are plenty of picturesque scenes of Bristol, including obligatory shot of the Clifton Suspension Bridge. But we see a more everyday side of the city too as the camera takes us to Stokes Croft, an area with a messier and more ordinary aesthetic. This diversity of people and places helps to integrate the smart city story into the day to day story of the city itself, making it more believable.

Smart talk

Getting a diversity of speakers is particularly important with expert voices. The various projects and activities of Bristol is Open are discussed by project experts, as is the underlying infrastructure that makes those smart technologies possible. Men and women in technical and creative leadership are equally featured. However, there is less diversity in terms of age, ethnicity or disability.

Across all the interviews, the tone is friendly and clear. There’s very little tech jargon or management speak.

Across all the interviews, the tone is friendly and clear. There’s little tech jargon or management speak.

Interviewees from the Watershed digital arts centre discuss how smart city technologies are made relevant to the public. We hear these alongside clips of their Playable Cities initiative, where visual art installations were put into public spaces around the city. Images of the technology used as well as Nokia branding are featured but do not dominate the visual narrative.

The biggest strength of this film is the sense of locality, people and culture that is established and its attention on social engagement rather than technological wizardry. This is very different from the sterile and corporate visions we see elsewhere. Whilst much of the footage used has a glossy finish, it represents accurately the diversity of the population, the environment and its culture. This focus on people and locality are successful elements that could be applied to other smart city promotions.