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Directed storytelling: Interpreting experience for design

Citation Evenson, S. (2006). Directed storytelling: Interpreting experience for design. Design studies: theory and research in graphic design. Princeton Architectural Pr. Sidewiki
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author = {Evenson, S.},
date-added = {2011-10-17 23:49:06 -0400},
date-modified = {2011-10-19 18:07:20 -0400},
journal = {Design studies: theory and research in graphic design},
pages = {231},
publisher = {Princeton Architectural Pr},
read = {1},
title = {Directed storytelling: Interpreting experience for design},
year = {2006},


Highlights (27%)

If the goal is to produce communications that resonate beyond our own experience, then we need methods and tools that will help us understand what is meaningful. p. 1

CliKord Geertz, a noted anthropologist, describes one of the jobs of the ethnographer as to “listen to what, in words, in images, in actions, [people] say about their lives.”2 In narrative inquiry, a method used in social science research, participants tell stories as a way for researchers to understand and document participants’ experiences. p. 2

How then can designers conduct research to inform design and increase its potential for meaning-making? What if they do not have the time or budget to conduct full-blown immersive ethnographic research? p. 2

I have named the process I use to gather accounts of people’s lives to inform design “directed storytelling.” p. 2

It is a method that can quickly reveal consistent patterns in people’s experiences. Knowledge of these patterns can influence a designer’s choices about content, hierarchy, and form, allowing designs to better resonate with their intended audiences. p. 3

The general rule is: if you cannot directly observe something, use directed storytelling. p. 3

The ideal number of people to engage in a storytelling session is three: a person who had an experience that is central to the object of the design activity (the storyteller); a person to lead the storyteller in their story (the leader); and finally a third person to document the session (the documenter). p. 3

It is also helpful to develop a rough guide for the session that the leader will use to redirect the storytellers if they get stuck. The leader’s guide consists of an opening line such as “Tell a story about the last time you had a memorable communication with someone that was not co-located with you—a communication over a distance.” p. 3

To continue with this example, the guide might consist of: – With whom did you communicate [participants]? What did you do [activity]? When did it happen? Please walk through the process that you used to make the connection. Was it spontaneous? How did that work? Did they contact you? How did you know who was trying to connect with you? How soon did you find out why they were contacting you? – Where were you? Did your location influence the communication in any way? Were there any artifacts that were particularly helpful in the communication? Was there any technology involved in the communication? How did the communication make you feel? What were the most important aspects of the whole experience? What made it exciting or challenging [compelling qualities]? p. 3

– What other things might be important to people making connections [relationships]? p. 4

encouraging the subject to use props if they are related to the experience and are at hand p. 4

As the story unfolds, the documenter writes one idea per page (in this particular project, post-its were used). Ideas are elements of the story that seem to be important either through the emphasis that the storyteller has given or through the documenter’s own interpretation of the information given by the storyteller. p. 4

Karen Holtzblatt and Hugh Beyer developed an approach to conducting interviews with respondents in their own environments that they called contextual inquiry.6 One step in the process involves the creation of agnity diagrams for specific types of information gleaned from the interview. The diagram is composed of single ideas and their relationships. p. 4

In directed storytelling the data is also clustered into an agnity diagram or map. First, the team lays out all the important ideas generated from the documenters on a wall (fig. 1). Next, the team works together to group the ideas into clusters or patterns, naming each cluster. Through this process, the team defines the most common themes related to the participant’s experience. In most cases it is desirable to create a model or framework that reflects and documents the themes, as well as the relationships between and among these themes. The framework can become a kind of shorthand for the knowledge of what people commonly experience about what is being designed. p. 4

Directed storytelling is useful for helping teams get to the three to five most significant ideas or themes that are central to an experience. p. 9

Directed storytelling is a method that is useful for time-bounded experiences such as “the last time you borrowed a book from the library” and not very useful for open-ended long-term experiences like “what it was like to grow apart from your twin sister.” p. 9

ref/evenson2006directed.txt · Last modified: 2014/07/05 00:28 by ryan