— I can’t remember how this link came my way or figure out why it resurfaced after a year (thank you, Internet) but this is a great list of advice on how to tell a good story from Pixar artist Emma Coats. These great tips are useful in so many contexts other than formal story-telling. For instance, I can totally imagine using them to try and make presentations more interesting, less dire.
Story-centered Design: Hacking Your Brain To Think Like A User is a great story by Google Ventures partner, Braden Kowitz. In it, he outlines his process for managing the complexity inherent in interaction design projects, and describes how he has moved away from a screen-based approach to one that focuses on narrative and storytelling. Easier said than done, of course, and the four ways he outlines aren’t the only ways to think about this issue, but it’s an important topic that more would do well to think about seriously. After all, the impact of a more holistic approach to design can be profound.
[Story via Erik Van Crimmin]
It really *is* data visualization week here on Thought You Should See This! I’ve been running around so much lately that I didn’t get a chance to see the Financial Times’ interactive installation in Grand Central station in New York, which closes today. But according to this Mashable story, visitors have been able to dance around an FT-branded mat to interact with 3D infographics designed by David McCandless and projected 70 feet high onto the hall’s south wall. Meantime, a series of un-interactive videos laying out some of the stories are also available on the FT’s Graphic World site. I liked the one above for some of its starker stats: 10% increase in cell phone adoption affects a country’s overall GDP by 0.8%. And 15% of Kenya’s GDP currently flows only through cell phones. Makes you think.
— I’m still smarting over some of the really, really awful “future of…” videos I’ve seen recently. You know, the ones where people are swishing things all over virtual screens and barking at virtual assistants about rebooking their important executive flight while watching telly through their Internet-connected RayBans. Or, as a friend commented, ahem, pithily: “The Future of Oh God Please Shut the F**k Up; Stop the Pain / Mine Eyes, Mine Eyes.” So while I take a deep breath and get over myself, I enjoyed reading Henry Jenkins’ interview with cultural theorist Anne Balsamo, a former Xerox PARC-er and author of Designing Culture. She’s grounded yet thought-provoking, and I really liked her description, above, of the importance of narrative to the innovation. I think maybe I get mad precisely because storytelling is so critical to innovation, and yet so many of the stories we seem to end up with are just so, well, pedestrian.
One of the interesting things about the BIF conference is that all the speakers are charged with telling a personal story. The idea is that they don’t trot out their usual Powerpoint presentation, but instead give the audience a glimpse into their personal life and their world, and thus afford us with a more intimate impression of their work. When this works, it can be amazingly powerful. When it doesn’t, it’s kind of awkward.
One person who rarely sticks with a script is Richard Saul Wurman (above), prolific author and cranky founder of TED, who seems to spend much of his time complaining about the rigid 18-minute format made famous by TED Talks and now apparently the standard fare of conferences everywhere. He is right that the setup is feeling a little tired, but as many of the BIF attendees reminded me, they weren’t really there for the presentations anyway. They were there for the breaks, the networking, the personal connections and conversations. The presentations were almost an aside. Which is a bit depressing for conference organizers*, but promising for Wurman’s next initiative. As he described it, www.www will be a meeting like no other:
There are no presentations, no schedule, no Powerpoint, no Keynote, no films, photographs or slides. There’s no schedule because I’ll let people talk till I get bored and then I’ll pull them. (And I have a low attention span.) I won’t not sell any tickets. And nobody can come.
Essentially, it’ll be Wurman and 100 of his pals (and as he so eloquently put it, “I know fucking everybody”) talking about a particular topic for a certain amount of time. The “intellectual jazz” will be filmed in black and white, and then later released as an interactive app. ”I’m terrified,” said a coy Wurman, looking absolutely nothing of the sort. ”I don’t know if I can pull it off.” And while a gathering of 100 bigwigs in some ways sounds like the worst kind of elitist horror show, I actually found myself rooting for him. I mean, the world needs contrarians, and Wurman sure is one of them.
[Photograph: Stephanie Ewens/BIF]
*I was thinking about this some more, and in fact this shift in dynamic also signals a shift in priorities for conference organizers, who are now on the hook for providing high quality video of an event’s presentations that can live on online forever. So not only are conference attendees not really there for the presentations, but often the speakers aren’t either. I was at an event where a speaker suddenly stopped mid-sentence, said “let me do that again” and started that section of her presentation again. A pretty weird experience to watch live, but she was totally wrapped up in how she’d come across to a potential audience of millions and not at all thinking about those people in the room actually watching her in the moment. It’s an interesting shift, for sure.
“Every time a new medium comes along, it takes people 20 or 30 years to figure out what to do with it,” says Frank Rose, author of the new book, The Art of Immersion. This video gives a snapshot of some of his ideas along with his description of a “new grammar of storytelling” that’s native to the internet and the networked world.
(Video via Rita J King.)
Love this point of view, from former Mozilla CEO, John Lilly, outlined in this personable Q&A in Fast Company, How an Introverted Engineer Came Out of his Shell to Lead Mozilla. Storytelling is a philosophy and skill that’s at the heart of the design field and it’s one that has come to the fore with the growing prominence of narrative-based conferences such as TED or BIF. But Lilly’s not simply echoing a trend. He adroitly outlines the dark side of storytelling, particularly in the context of being a CEO who has to shepherd and inspire employees. In particular, he says, he had to resist the desire to tweak the story he had to tell over and over and over again. “If I told a different story to 50 different people, then suddenly the whole organization will be slightly out of alignment,” he realized. “My job was to tell the story in a simple way that was repeatable and amplifiable, not to make it all diverge.”
Lilly brings up another great point towards the end of the Q&A: the imprint that working at a company leaves on young employees. He’s thinking about the likes of Facebook, Google and Amazon but the thought is applicable to any company. “What you imprint on people and the diaspora that comes out of your company later may or not may not be an important and lasting legacy.” Love this; the whole Q&A is really worth the read.
Projects that involve photographers taking a picture every day aren’t new, but Today is a good, refreshingly narcissism-free example of the genre. Digital designer and online storyteller Jonathan Harris shot and uploaded a new photograph of his surroundings every day for a year. Dubbing it “an assisted living center for memory,” the project is captured in this film, shot by Scott Thrift, which shows all the images and includes Harris’ thoughtful musings on life, work and the search for meaning in both. As he sweetly concludes, the film’s subtitle could have been, “Boy Meets World. Boy Still Baffled.”