City archetypes

Composite map of Boston (Kevin Lynch)

Composite map of Boston (Kevin Lynch. Source:

When Kevin Lynch conducted the research for a project called The Perceptual Form of the City, providing much of the material for his seminal work The Image of the City, he asked study participants to draw their mental models of the cities they lived in. Lynch then created composite maps generated from multiple drawings, resulting an archetypal, aggregate mental map of the city. He was able to identify five shared characteristics of the mental image people form of their environments: paths, nodes, districts, edges, and landmarks. While the individual interpretation of these five elements may vary, they form the vocabulary of what he called the imageable city.

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Identity and the Branded Community

Branded communities are an emerging phenomenon. Certainly, the term “branded community” is increasing in popularity. Yet—and this should not come as a surprise—brand has always been an important factor in regard to communities, and not only new communities. In this context, brand is a platform for creating and communicating a sense of place; it is the stated or perceived identity of a community. Branded communities, in their attempt to formalize sense of place, are not only the latest chapter in the ongoing narrative of the ideal or utopian city; they are also the outcome of a changing relationship between identity and community.

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Social constructionism and identity

Social constructionism states that the reality we perceive is constructed through social interactions. In education, constructionism has been used to support a curriculum emphasizing learning by doing, with interdisciplinary projects forming the foundation. Students, the theory goes, learn more effectively when they learn on the basis of experimentation, in particular when their gained knowledge finds a direct and immediate application.

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Mapping and metaphor

Since geographic information systems have become mainstream, maps are everywhere, and not just on our computers, but on our phones and in our cars. We are now literally surrounded by maps. Yet, despite so much exposure, I have not lost interest in mapping as an art. On the contrary—I am more than ever drawn to maps which have a distinct perspective. To me, the most powerful maps are those which convey identity, or—in the case of geographic maps—a sense of place.

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Identity as content segmentation

Information architecture is the process of structuring information, typically based on specific interaction objectives. Yet as interaction design is increasingly seen as the extension of a brand experience, interactions themselves can become identity driven. This has implications for any content segmentation, which itself becomes an integral aspect of an identity program. The brand strategy can determine where, when and how to surface any type of information.

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