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Universal Mind has just released the Beta Version of their new product SpatialKey, a tool that is designed to help organizations quickly assess location based information critical to their organizational goals, decision making processes and reporting requirements. Spatial Key is first and foremost about not missing the opportunities to uncover truth. From tracking crime to uncovering the spread of disease Spatial Key gives us the opportunity to become less reactionary and more proactively involved in predicting future outcomes or potential disasters to our own companies, communities, or even ourselves. Because of the collected information available to us our culture is one that will no longer desperately try to uncover potential patterns by weeding through hundreds of pages of a report but rather we seek out a new visual literacy. A literacy where data comes to us in a useful and engaging manner. A visual literacy that gives us that which we most desire, time! Time to learn, time to explore, and time to potentially change course. Spatial Key will become a launch-pad of innovation for new and continued exploits into the ways in which we visualize data, produce data, and proactively engage in what the data is offering up. Spatial Key will become a leader in our own individual story as a never before seen social awareness of our world begins to unfold…one data point at a time!
As I was pondering topics for my speaking engagement at FLEX Camp Miami this year I stumbled upon an NPR interview called “A Movie’s Look, From Toilet To Villain’s Lair.” An interview with award winning set designer J. Michael Riva. It was a fascinating look into the life of the Hollywood Set Designer and how they interact and connect with Producers, Directors, and ultimately the audience. The, sometimes, over-the-top profession where telling a story is all about making it believable for the rest of us. Where just the right prop can elicit a feeling of longing, happiness, or despair. Where creation of a story begins not with the “features” that can make it believable but rather the subtleties of understanding the movies goal, that overall emotional connection the story is trying to pull from the viewer.
As I kept listening I began to realize that design in all its different flavors; print, interactive, application, environmental, industrial, fashion, automotive…everything we’re trying to accomplish revolves around telling great stories, stories that connect and engage a user in a way that is meaningful and lasting to them. So “The Art of Storytelling” was born. An engaging look at, not only the anatomy of what makes a great story but how it relates to the practice and principles of Experience Design. Here are the highlights:
The Anatomy of a Great Story (lead Character. Ambition. Conflict. Resolution)
1. Lead character: All stories must have a Lead Character. Someone that over the course of pages or time we get to know and begin to connect with. Authors and Directors give us insights into the lead character by giving us a back-story in order for us to:
- Understand the motivations behind their actions
- Connect with their situation
- Emotionally engage with their story
- Know how they got to where they’re at
- Understand where they’re headed
In order for Designers/developers to create compelling interactions they must first and foremost understand who they’re designing or building for. Without a back-story, an intimate connection to the user, then all we’re doing is designing for the sake of designing. We’re not truly designing for the end user but rather what we “think” the end user would want. So Understanding the Lead Character in your story is critical to the success of the experience!
2. Ambition: So now that the movie is progressing and we have a pretty good grasp on who the lead character is we begin to uncover their ambition; their Goal. The ambition gives us the ultimate view into the tension and motivations that exist within the story:
- Ambition helps give clarity to the characters goal
- Ambition sets the tone and direction of the story
- Ambition gives us a purpose
- Ambition now gives us a Lead Character with a set of objectives
Once we have that intimate connection and true understanding of the end user we now can understand their ambitions, their motivations. Motivations and reasoning for them using the application, wanting to buy that car, wear those jeans, or purchase that song. We now have something to work with! But without understanding who the lead character (demographic, sex, location, race…) is we would never fully comprehend their goals and ambitions, thus creating something I would consider to be the opposite of “user centric.”
3. Conflict: Ah yes, every great story has conflict. Some impending disaster waiting to unfold that catapults our character into a sea of uncertainty. Like in the movie 300 or The Lord of the Rings where the smaller armies awaiting a certain death hold their ground as the sound of the enemies drums pound in their chests. It’s doing what’s right even in the face of certain obstacles.
- Conflict brings tension but tension brings resolution
- Conflict is fraught with risk and is never easy to deal with
- Conflict gives a voice to the characters ambition and motivations
- Conflict occurs when opposing forces don’t understand one another
- Conflict has the ability to change the course of a story!
When you’ve done your homework and took the time to understand the end user you’ll always have something to go back to when tough decisions need to be made.
- Why are you choosing to use that platform and not this one? “Because the end users are all early adopters of technology and would embrace this environment with open arms”
- Why would you chose that color? “Because your users will be using mobile devices such as an iPhone and we needed to accommodate for outdoor usage and the mobile culture”
4. Resolution: When the lead character has, through their ambitions and conflicts, struggled through to the end they’ve typically ended up someplace better than before.
- Resolution gives us closure on the decisions we’ve made throughout the story
- Resolution gives us the ability to learn and accept change
- Resolution gives us a new starting point to begin again
Resolution is not the end of the story but rather a new starting point. Perhaps during the story we’ve learned new characteristics about our lead character that were previously buried beneath the rubble. Or it’s possible that others have joined the story and have new perspectives that would enhance or even change the course of the narrative. Whatever it happens to be resolution ultimately gives us a fresh perspective and a new set of guidelines that will help shape the narrative because now we are starting from a place filled with knowledge!
The Art of Storytelling has given us insights into the Anatomy of a Great Story but what we can’t forget is this: It’s not just about the story but its also how the story is told that matters!
- How are we being engaged within the story? (photography, cinematography, transitions, sounds, color, brand impression)
- How is the user moving through the experience we’ve created?
- What metaphors are being created to help guide the user?
- What obstacles exist that need to be moved? (business, financial, economic, personal, community)
- What objectives must the user meet in order to be successful?
- Is it better than it was before (Quicker, simpler, more engaging)
The Art of Storytelling is all around us and can be seen everywhere you look. From the clothes we wear to the music we listen to. Everything, and everyone, has their own unique story. These compelling, engaging experiences that give us insight into who we are as an individual, a community, a company, a product, and a culture. Infused with a style and language all our own we are all the leading character in our own stories!
For us designers and developers helping to create these stories we must constantly revisit the cast of characters in order to fully create a story that is inspiring, thoughtful, and simply worth coming back to!
“Chaos in the world brings uneasiness, but it also allows the opportunity for creativity and growth.” (tom barrett)
As global markets and economies are shifting and rearranging businesses must have the ability to quickly and efficiently adapt to this ever morphing landscape. To be able to, through great experiences, deliver their message in unique and engaging ways. To be able to meet their audience wherever they’re at independent of time, location, and even device.
In time such as these individuals, businesses, communities and corporate institutions alike look to us (designers and technologists) to find better ways of doing things. To make an experience more captivating, a procedure more streamlined, a process less complicated. In a world of unrest people desperately seek out better ways.
Better ways to connect, not only with their businesses but with their lives. Better ways to communicate, not only with their dealer networks but also within their own personal communities. Better ways to produce, not only products but things of lasting value. Better ways to bring meaning and purpose, not only to their lives but to the lives around them. In a world of unrest the natural tendency is for people to seek out better ways of doing…whatever that happens to be. If however they don’t seek out better ways then their story is in jeopardy of loosing its vitality.
Its that connection point, the overall experience, of how we consume, connect and engage with that message that truly matters. It’s a multi-channel approach to being universally connected with our world.
And its within that search where the impossible collides with the possible. Where thoughts rearrange and ideas become tangible artifacts that unify and bring a sense of order to the story being told. Where finding a better way becomes as important to a businesses future as it does to a world in question. This is where we open our arms and say “welcome, we’ve been waiting for you.”
As User Experience Designers this is where we live and breath. Daily we are uncovering different ways to engage our clients within their world, to find quicker, easier, better ways of telling their stories. And in today’s environment where we are constantly redefining how we even connect to that information its important to meet the audience in ways that make sense to them. Not only from inside the glass but also how that message is engaging with the user outside the glass that is equally important. What kind of impression does it leave on the user. Has the experience, through a sensitivity in design and attention to functional details, delivered anything of lasting value?
In time such as these the world looks to us to lead the way, to generate the new and breath life into the old. It’s about us doing what we do best. And in a time when creativity and growth become byproducts of a world desperately seeking out “better ways of doing” we are there as thought leaders challenging the mindset of mediocrity. A voice that truly has the ability to inspire change through a delicate balance between the Art and Science of User Experience Design, the Art of Psychology and the Art of Possibilities. It is our time to inspire and be inspired as we march forward into the unknown…
WELCOME TO THE EXPERIENCE ECONOMY!
So there I was sitting in San Francisco’s Moscone Center surrounded by 5,000 of my closest friends all waiting to be fed a heavy dose of inspiration. After all Adobe’s MAX conference is all about connect, discover, inspire, right?
So there I was sitting quietly taking in all the sights and sounds around me. Goosebumps forming like a second layer of skin as I settled in for the show.
Slowly as conversations began to take form around me I suddenly had this feeling that I was in the minority. A designer living and breathing within the constructs of a foreign language. In fact at one point I thought I heard what sounded like Japanese but come to find out they were just talking in a language called CFML. Maybe I should have brought my lightsaber to fend off the impending disaster that was beginning to consume me. But as a designer I realized I had no such weapon, only my trusty black-baret was able to defend my position.
Suddenly the lights went off and within seconds the mash-up artist Mike Relm began mixing and spinning his table-top magic. Videos and images temporarily juxtaposed like fractured pieces of memories as sounds exploded into the venue. His fingers orchestrating this feast of melodies as the crowd of 5,000 brought the house down with applause akin to a ColdPlay concert. The leftover memories of a “designer/developer” showdown quickly evaporated. I was indeed in the right place!
For me this week was about perception (lightsabers and black barets) vs. reality. And for the first time in my career it was this interaction with developers that inspired me as a designer. No longer was the conversations siloed into separate corners rather genuine open dialogues could be seen and heard within the Keynote addresses, sessions, and hallway chatter throughout the week.
In a practical sense this could be seen as Adobe released a pre-build of their latest and greatest tool Flash Catalyst (formally Thermo). This application is truly beginning to blur the lines between designer and developer. Or at the very least giving the tools to the designer in order to better communicate to the developer communities in ways which makes sense to both parties.
It’s this handshake between the designer and developer communities that will ultimately be the Catalyst for Innovation and in a couple years when I look back I will remember that, for me, the MAX conference 2008 was where it all started to make sense!
For awhile now I’ve been seing this shift in the marketplace from high-end technology solutions to high-end brand experiences wrapped around best-in-breed technologies. Technology is no longer leading and likewise design no longer carries its own weight. Its the experience that matters! And to survive one must have a firm grasp that great experiences are enabled through a thoughtful relationship between Art and Science.
This document is just an exploration of thoughts and feelings as it relates to the healthy tension that has historically existed between the Technologist and Designer communities.