Design yourself a story

As part of my current course of study, I’m learning about design and what it means to construct a brand identity. As an editor of moving images I thought I had a fairly good grasp of what it meant to create something visual however, the design process can be a lengthy and well travelled road, one which is fraught with perils and junctions which can lead in all sorts of wild and unfathomable directions. As is often the case when on a creative road of so many opportunities and possibilities, one begins to seek out structure and if I’m going to continue which this road analogy this would take the form of signposts, which physically reassure us we have met certain points on the overall map.

One of the texts I’ve come across on my travels, is a book by Andy An-Si Dong entitled The Language of Design. In a section on language in design, Dong observes the way designers write down their ideas by describing the design concept they are attempting to create. In this way, language becomes a representation of the design concept. Dong relates this creative design process to storytelling, which as an editor really caught my attention.  The designer is the protagonist, the process is the plot, the tools are the props and the product is the theme.

Now to make any story successful, one requires some degree of conflict. A happy tale of success without any form of struggle alas does not make for interesting viewing or reading. So how does this relate to the design process? Dong suggests that the conflicting interests in the design process is in effect the struggle and that the reconciliation would be the happy ending, as I interpret it anyway. This is interesting as often when a design process is initiated and executed, the greatest concern for any designer is dealing with conflict which can feel as a stifling of their creativity. Many’s the meeting I’ve attended whereby concerns are raised over how much involvement the client or key stakeholders will have in the process and how blissful it would be if only their input could be removed from the equation. Observing this behaviour in a meeting is in fact a form of social analysis called ethnomethodology. So next time you sit in a meeting without contributing merely observing behaviour and conversation, think carefully on what you garner from such an experience. What is it that people are really saying and how does their view on the world help you problem solve? But! Back to storytelling, creative process and conflict.

I came to realise that whatever the creative process is be it design, editing, art commission or music composition, without that conflict from a client, that pressure from the outside, we would have no story.

“The ‘plot’ could reflect the conflicting interests and resulting reconciliation and shared agreements of the design stake- holders.”

One might argue we could work more effectively, more efficiently without external interference but then isn’t that what project managers, agents and liaisons in general are for? To interpret the feedback, dilute the stress and mediate? No, we need that conflict. Love it or loathe it, we need that friction, that dissension which may ire at the time but in the long run can lead to us consider alternative routes or pitstops. Perhaps even take us on shortcuts.

I love this analogy primarily for the fact putting things into a storytelling format appeals to my own need to formalise a structure in order to comprehend something better. A survival instinct, as it were. So think of it in terms of whichever creative process is most relevant to you but I believe storytelling can help us all.

The Language of Design. Theory and Computation is written by Andy An-Si Dong and is available from Springer press.

Image: Scott Beale

 

 

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