Design and Story
I’m bouncing Dan’s post about design and storytelling in my head. His basic message is that it’s all about the story and design is just a tool to convey the story. If two people are telling the same story, the one who knows when and how long to pause, when to raise their voice, when to whisper will
seem to tell a much better story. Visual design works the same way. And you get better at it by paying attention to people who are good and then analyzing your own work. Reflection on what you do that works is a key component of design (and just about anything else). It’s a lot like what D’Arcy says here about photography (just replace photography with design).
And there’s no easy answer. There isn’t a simple recipe, where if followed dutifully, a person will be transformed into a better photographer. There are two separate but related aspects to photography – the technical, and the aesthetic. I believe that the technical side can be relatively easily addressed – read some books, maybe take a course or two, rtfm, and practice.
It’s the aesthetic side of photography that is harder to develop. There isn’t an easy process to do that. Some sense of aesthetics will develop as you shoot more photographs – whether through trial and error, mimicking other photographs that you like, or through deliberate composition. The most effective, long term strategy that I’ve found to improve my sense of aesthetics has been through what I call “mindful seeing.” I don’t mean in a spiritual sense, although there might be a spiritual aspect to it – mindfulness is a strong component of eastern philosophies such as Buddhism. I mean the act and process of being deliberately thoughtful about what you are seeing. To see what you are looking at. It’s something that doesn’t happen automatically – we go through life filtering what we see, reducing input and stimulus to the point that we aren’t as distracted by visual stimuli. Mindful seeing is the process of turning off the filters, of seeing your surroundings unfettered and unobstructed.
If you pay attention to design, in everything, it will impact how you design things. So pay attention.
I’m going to show how I think about design/storytelling with this before and after slide. It’s no big deal and I certainly am not claiming design perfection with it but it does show two different ways of thinking about the story.
- You’ve got two distinct images that don’t really mesh with one another – one really modern, one really old. I see them as two distinct chunks of data.
- The map also has lots of text detailing Sherman’s march to the sea. It’s really too small and complex for the viewer to absorb as we talk- or if they do they won’t hear anything we’re saying (the important part right?).
- Then you’ve got two chunks of text. I’ve got a feeling that both these things will be said during the presentation- so why write them on the slide? That’s especially true for the caption under the Sherman image.
- The title and two pictures are all essentially on the same level. The slide is telling you that all three of these items are of equal importance.
- The images are more unified. There are three separate images here but they’re blended into one which I think makes things less segmented and easier to process.
- The image is a lot more dramatic. It tells you a story here. Looking at this picture you know Sherman was a tough, scary looking man who burned up the South. It makes the story more personal by attaching it to a real human face.
- I’ve also created some levels of importance. Sherman is the most important part of the story. That’s why he’s the largest image and in the foreground. I upped the contrast of the photo to increase the appearance of severity.
Secondly, I want them to know what he did (burn everything). That puts the fire image next in line. The color also helps liven up the slide. As both of the other pictures are black and white the fire is even more dramatic. I did have to make the fire semi-opaque to keep it from taking too much attention away from Sherman.
Finally, I’d like them to have a rough idea where Sherman did this but I’m not worried about details (that would be a different story medium). I just want them to have a general feel for the movement. That’s why the image is in the background and obscured by the two other images.
- Negatives- I think the map may still be too much distraction. When presenting I’d probably guide the students through the image. When the slide came up I’d say something like “Sherman. . . . Who wants him for a teacher?” That’d get them focused on the man right away. You get them thinking about him as a real person as well and can then get into what his personality was like etc. Then after discussing the fire tactic I’d exaggerate the complexity of the map and then focus them on what my point is- that Sherman moved through the South devastating huge areas of it. Exactly where is not that important to me.
So that’s my thought process anyway. I have no design training other than looking at things and reading stuff on the Internet and a few books. Feel free to throw your two cents in. Are there issues with my slide? Let me know.