A new design idol has emerged for me: Jan Chipchase. Jan has reconfirmed what I have known for awhile which is that designers must be the best listeners in the room. What he taught me though, is that they must also be great storytellers. Chipchase's field of expertise, Ethnography, offers a way to make sense of the complexity of life. It lets us see beyond our preconceptions and immerse ourselves in the world of others. Most importantly, it allows us to see patterns of behavior in a real world context - patterns that we can understand both rationally and intuitively and tell stories about.
Recently, while attempting to refine how I think about myself as a designer, it occurred to me that my favorite part of being a designer is based around storytelling. Whether it be telling the story of a blind teenager who has learned to navigate his world using self-taught echolocation abilities, or telling the story of a new digital, sensor-augmented experience. Since the dawn of communication, civilizations have been telling stories. The mediums, or the tools they have used have obviously developed over time from oral recounting of mythological beliefs to printed books, to Wacom-enhanced digital renderings. With all of these examples, a compelling story must be developed in order to push the ideas into the realm of reality, to convince the audience that some aspect of the story could be real. For me, defining that point where fantasy can be spun into a convincing story is the key. Researching has always been an important building block for my design process, but its really what you can do with the research that makes it worthwhile. I dont mean, what the product that eventually gets made is, but the story that can be learned and retold to new listeners, the spreading of knowledge about cultures, patterns, traditions, and futures.
My recent mediums of choice have been the written word and photography, but I have a newfound appreciation for the art of storyboarding. In the filmmaking process, a written script turns into a hand-drawn storyboard, which eventually is turned into a production film. I plan to explore translating this process to the design of products, interactions, and experiences. Stay tuned...