Design Keywords: Storytelling – In Your Work

ARTSTHREAD - Design Keywords: Storytelling – In Your Work

“Becoming a designer is not just a matter of honing your practical skills, there’s a new language to get familiar with. This series of articles explores some of the most important words used in studios, websites and universities around the world. It lets you know why these terms are so significant and gives you tips on how to use them to your advantage.”

Aysar Ghassan continues our new series on Design Keywords with the first of two articles on ‘Storytelling’.

For generations, people have used storytelling to express complex and important messages. The rise of the ‘experience economy’ (the subject of the previous article in this series) in the last few years has made designers particularly interested in storytelling. With the help of Anton Webb & Rishi Sodha from the design consultancy ‘2Creatives’, this article lets you know how storytelling can work for you.

Do you think of storytelling as something reserved for primary school? Think again. Storytelling has become vital in motivating consumers in developed economies. The innovation specialist Steven Denning states:

“Stories can enhance or change perceptions. Stories are easy to remember…and engage our feelings…Storytelling enables individuals to see themselves in a different light, and accordingly take decisions, and change their behaviour in accordance with these new perceptions, insights, and identities.” [1]

Finest Bluebell Aracuana EggsFinest Bluebell Araucana eggs, Tesco

Examples of great storytelling can be found in the most un-egg-spected places…Let’s see what Tesco have to say about their Finest Bluebell Araucana eggs:

“Class A. 100% British. Our hens are free to roam outdoors during the day, enjoying a naturally enriched diet that produces a rich golden yolk and a naturally blue shell. The Lion quality mark guarantees that these eggs have been laid in the UK…” [2]

Tesco have cleverly crammed lots of stories about their offering in a very small area. Why is this so important? Just like the products of less exotic-sounding chickens, these snazzy eggs contain fats, proteins and carbohydrates. And as with all hens’ eggs, their shells are made mostly of calcium carbonate.

If what they’re made of isn’t unique, maybe their taste is? Though very much a fan of their flavour, the food writer Rebecca Marx finds it difficult to tell apart Bluebell Araucana eggs:

“…the taste doesn’t differ noticeably from the regular free-range eggs more commonly found at the market”. [3]

What then might help make them Tesco’s Finest? Let’s return to the book which inspired the first article in this series, “The Experience Economy: is Theatre & Every Business a Stage”.

The Experience EconomyThe Experience Economy: Work is Theatre & Every Business a Stage

The authors B. Joseph Pine & James H. Gilmore write:

“Good and services are no longer enough. Customers now want experiences”. [4]

It’s important to think of experiences as being different from goods or services:

“Economists have typically lumped experiences in with services, but experiences are a distinct economic offering, as different from services as services are from goods”. [5]

Crucially, consumers will pay more for experiences than they will for goods and services:

“Experiences have emerged as the next step in what we call the progression of economic value”. [6]

As experiences can mean more profit than goods or services, the latter play a supporting role and enable experiences to come to the fore:

“An experience occurs when a company intentionally uses services as the stage, and goods as props, to engage individual customers in a way that creates a memorable event”. [7]

In Pine & Gilmore’s terms, Tesco’s Finest Bluebell Araucana eggs can be argued to be props, used to engage customers in a memorable way in order to create fantastic experiences. telling stories about the breed of chicken, their lifestyle (yes, chickens have lifestyles too), their diet, their country of residence and the colour of the resulting egg, Tesco skilfully stir lots of senses. Pine & Gilmore point out the importance of this strategy:

“The more senses an experience engages, the more effective and memorable it can be”. [8]

These experiences don’t apply to everyone. At £2.25 for 6 [9], some readers may think these eggs are over-priced, whilst others will buy them. Experiences are special because they belong exclusively to each and every one of us:

“Experiences are inherently personal, existing only in the mind of an individual who has been engaged on an emotional, physical, intellectual, or even spiritual level”. [10]

Through engaging its most demanding customers on a personal level, Tesco can command a premium price for products belonging to its Finest range.

2Creatives2Creatives

Let’s look at how designers use storytelling in their day-to-day work. In 2010, Anton Webb & Rishi Sodha founded the multidisciplinary London-based design consultancy ‘2Creatives’.

Through tackling everything from research-based projects to branding to developing mobile apps, their team have come to specialise in both designing experiences for a wide range of users and understanding the business needs of a diverse body of clients. 2Creatives have worked with clients ranging from large scale international companies to start-ups and boutiques. Storytelling has been an intrinsic part of their business plan from the very start:

“When we were starting off, our story wasn’t publicly known. We didn’t have an extensive client list..we needed to tell people who we are and what we can do!”

So, Anton & Rishi began working on a ‘Client Book’. More than a portfolio, this publication contained a series of interlinking stories about them to engage and motivate people.

2Creatives 22Creatives

In the early stages, both were employed by other agencies, so found it difficult to schedule business meetings. During this time, the Client Book proved invaluable:

“We couldn’t tell our stories face-to-face. The client book helped tell our story when we weren’t there.”

Stories are very important to clients. Anton & Rishi point out that, whilst not everyone they meet works with aesthetic elements, their clients often are aware of their own innate storytelling abilities:

“Long before the internet, TV, radio or even the printed word, humans the world over would entertain and educate each other through spoken word. Simply put, they told stories. We are all engrained with the ability to tell a story.”

‘On paper’, 2Creatives design brands, products and services. However, storytelling is so significant that the founders prefer to put the creation of stories at the forefront of everything they do:

“When choosing to work with a client we ask ourselves two things: what is the client’s story? And can we help them tell it? For us, it always boils down to the business problem the client is trying to solve, as often the story they think they want to tell isn’t the one that solves their problem”.

Storytelling also helps 2Creatives to maximise their clients’ involvement in the design process. It’s so important that Anton & Rishi believe that ultimately their job is to:

“Empower our clients to tell their own stories. We know that we’re working with bright and passionate people who understand their businesses and industries. So by bringing different skillsets to the table, we provide a framework where we can collaboratively craft design solutions and stories with our clients that solve their problems.”

2Creatives 32Creatives

To succeed, storytelling must engage clients on a personal level. As such 2Creatives are careful to tailor stories to different people’s needs:

“Our role as consultants is to provide an outside perspective on what are often complex and multi-layered problems, talking to a variety of stakeholders and audience groups. But when you distil it down to its bare essentials, it is essentially communicating the same story in different ways to paint the picture as whole.”

However, storytelling isn’t easy to master. Anton & Rishi believe that many designers see it as a quick route to achieving objectives. However, the wrong story can push clients away:

“To make a good story you need both a good teller and a willing listener. Often designers tell the wrong story to the listener. But most importantly, designers often forget that working with a client is a story in itself. The greatest success comes when both clients and creatives appreciate the knowledge and values that each other have. As storytellers, we have the tools to communicate across a variety of mediums, however it is only by working with and using the knowledge your client has, that you find the story worth telling.”

Effective, emotive storytelling then is crucial in helping designers communicate successfully with both clients and consumers. Crucially, it can help you convince both of the fabulous experiences you are able to create through designing products and services.

Narration is such a hot topic that this series will continue by helping you learn more about how you can use storytelling to your advantage. Anton & Rishie’s Client Book helped tell great stories about them at the beginning of their journey. The next article delves further into why telling appropriate stories about yourself can help you find work in the ultra-competitive world of design.

Aysar Ghassan teaches Automotive and Transport Design at Coventry University. He writes on 21st Century Design Philosophy and Design Education in international journals and conferences.

REFERENCES

[1] Denning, S. (2001) The Springboard: How Storytelling Ignites Action in Knowledge-Era Organizations. MA: Heinmemann. Page XV.

[2] Tesco (No Date) Tesco Finest Bluebell Auraucana Box of 6 Eggs.Accessed: http://www.tesco.com/groceries/Product/Details/?id=277393000

[3] Marx, R. (2010) Araucana Chicken Eggs Are Beautiful Inside and Out. Villagevoice.com. Accessed: http://blogs.villagevoice.com/forkintheroad/2010/05/aracauna_eggs_t.php

[4] Pine, B.J. and Gilmore, J.H. (1999) The Experience Economy: Work is Theatre & Every Business a Stage. Boston, MA: Harvard Business Press. 163.

[5] Pine, B.J. and Gilmore, J.H. (1998) Welcome to the Experience Economy. Harvard Business Review, 76, Issue 4. 97.

[6] Pine, B.J. and Gilmore, J.H. (1998) Welcome to the Experience Economy. Harvard Business Review, 76, Issue 4. 97.

[7] Pine, B.J. and Gilmore, J.H. (1998) Welcome to the Experience Economy. Harvard Business Review, 76, Issue 4. 98.

[8] Pine, B.J. and Gilmore, J.H. (1998) Welcome to the Experience Economy. Harvard Business Review, 76, Issue 4. 104.

[9] Tesco (No Date) Tesco Finest Bluebell Auraucana Box of 6 Eggs.Accessed: http://www.tesco.com/groceries/Product/Details/?id=277393000

[10] Pine, B.J. and Gilmore, J.H. (1998) Welcome to the Experience Economy. Harvard Business Review, 76, Issue 4. 99.