“If you don’t feel it, you won’t remember it Bob Dickman, The Elements of Persuasion.
Placemaking content strategy
To make design an experience is to marry the storytelling with its environment. The focus is never one-dimensional but multi-faceted, addressing the look, feel, function, and utility for an emotional connection. An overarching, immersive spatial experience is the by-product of a carefully crafted narrative. Content-led design strategy acts as a common thread between the invisible and the visible.
What you see, read, comprehend makes you feel in a certain way. It affects your thoughts which generate emotions. The content can influence your mind, and thereby stimulate a response. Design elements empower the designer to orchestrate the desired experience. Careful concatenation of each frame calibrates a story-like space styling. Every small detail counts, from the vase to the veneer. Content is the king — it rules in the truest sense of the space.
The word storytelling is thrown around commonly yet consciously in the design world. Designers use storytelling to get insight into space users, build empathy, and reach them emotionally. They create personas to represent target users and add synergy to stories that reflect their user journeys and problems. Crafting stories, designers can better understand what users want from a solution. Stories do not just access a small part of our brains. The best stories can tap into all areas of our brains; even the old brain, which relies on providing instinctive decisions. To create a compelling experience, one must strike the perfect chord with the user. Nothing less, nothing more…just the right one. To achieve this, we need to create an emotional narrative, which is altogether different from a literal narrative. An emotional narrative is just about tone, it is not about story arch. Copy and visuals can all connect to convey and elicit positive emotion throughout an experience. They are indispensable to the information architecture of the space, slowly building through content. Each piece of content you choose defines your story and controls the narrative around the space and its users. You have a responsibility towards the space user to tell your story in a way that is consistent, realistic, and responsible. To do that, a content strategy should be in place at the start of the process.
To silence everything else in your mind and attain the state-of-flow for higher productivity,
What is that one-word-association for your workspace design?
make (something) possible
The experience is a direct result of the design and not only impacts how things operate, but also the fundamental processes that enable a certain experience. Purposeful content interventions are designed to delight and create moments of serendipity. In the last part of the essay, we established present-day-fact for design. As the intention behind the design has changed, the capabilities and talent involved in the design process have also evolved. They are no longer limited to a purely mechanical and functional approach but include an experiential and human-centric approach created by a pool of specialists that center their capabilities on human behaviour understanding, situation analysis, and from there to design and experience. Experiential design goes beyond the meager aesthetics. It becomes about encapsulating a story and being able to recreate the same touchpoints at every interaction between the space and its user.
The renowned philosopher Aristotle wrote widely on storytelling. His formula is can be broken down into a series of checklist for what your design story should contain.
- Plot – What are space users trying to accomplish or overcome?
- Character – Get an insight on who are the users: not just demographically, but what are their true needs?
- Theme – How can you establish a trustworthy presence? How will you serve the purpose of the space, personal & professional?
- Dialogue – What will your design say to users and how? Does a formal/informal tone match their expectations? How much text is appropriate? Is it text or something else?
- Melody – How will the overall design pattern appear amicable and predictable to users, moving them emotionally?
- Décor – How will you present the visual graphics to match the sensor settings of the users?
- Spectacle – How can you make your design an accomplice in the user experience such that they will remember it?
Best explained with a design example.
Uber takes O+A’s concept of design as a story to another level. The design needed to translate the simplified experience of getting around a city with an Uber. It was a story of a start-up in San Francisco with a new idea of urban transport based on a shared economy. A transformative global presence in 200 cities and in 5 years had to be told on an epic scale. This service of one-to-one connection had to be told with a fine balance of intimacy, having an undertone of safety, and a luxury ride, unleashing the freedom of time and money. After identifying the experience O+A decided to ask the space users, the Uber employees, about the work environment they would like to be in. The design program kicks in much later. What begins even before the designers get to the drawing board, is the search of that one-word-association for the content of the design. “You have to find ways to find that center, to find balance, to find sanity…” briefs Uber CEO, Travis Kalanick to the team. One word that breaks down the beauty and complexity of the user experience and Uber’s mission is Independence. It then became the-one unique aspect in every detail of design expression for the Uber HQ. The result is a vast space made up of many interlocking comfort zones, an artful orchestration of communal areas and small enclaves for solo concentration.
Your story narratives are “magic mirrors”—proving fine-tuned empathy and connection with users’ values—where users discover how to make their own happily-ever-after. Ultimately, your design should predict your target users’ actions at every level possible and also enable them.
“We are, as species, addicted to story.
Even when the body goes to sleep,
the mind stays up all night, telling itself stories”.
Author, The StoryTelling Animal
A content-led experience is, by definition, user focused. Content strategy, therefore, is a design function.
– Seema Lele
Architect I Content-led Strategist
A multi-part essay on emotional forces in design – way forward for the change management process.