Back in the day, designers were called UI Designers. Their primary goal was to design the User Interface (UI) of applications to ensure that it was "user-friendly." In other words, the software had to be easy to use. It did not take long for them to realize that user-friendly applied to more than just the UI of an application, so they expanded their roles to be Experience (X) Designers. They define the experience as a holistic set of interactions with the user. This includes everything from downloading, trying, buying, licensing, and using the application day in/day out. In addition, it is not limited to applications. It applies to services as well. In short, everything about interacting with Autodesk.
Autodesk started out as a company focused on individual applications. Then we moved to addressing the needs of specific industries that spanned multiple applications. Now it's about the whole user experience. We want our collections of applications and services to work consistently, work well together, and provide maximum benefit for our users. To move us further along in this direction, we recently held a 3-day X Summit at the Grand Hyatt in San Francisco. Attendance was limited to a few hundred employees so teams could share best practices and focus on what it takes to provide better consistency and interoperability.
My colleague, Darren Brooker, is a visual storyteller who crafts the scripts/visuals that you hear/see when one of our executives, like CEO Carl Bass or CTO Jeff Kowalski, engage in public speaking like the keynotes at Autodesk University. As part of the X Summit, Darren shared his tips on effective storytelling. It was a highly regarded session at the summit.
Darren made some excellent points. Here's my take-away from Darren's talk:
Trouble is at the heart of every story.
To the casual observer, listening to a story may seem like a passive act, but it's far from it. When we experience story, our minds are working hard. The storyteller might deliver the words, but he only guides the way we imagine the story. Writers sometimes compare their craft to painting. Each word is a daub of paint, each phrase a brushstroke. It is our imaginations that supply the color, the shading, the texture to every story we hear. Stories are most frequently told to children. Children engage in the continuous, spontaneous creation of two things: mess and stories. It's like a form of performance art. And just as it's said that art acts as a playground for the mind, story functions as cognitive play too. Child's play is not as escapist as one might at first think. Play actually confronts very human problems head-on. On any given day, child's play might be about a lot of things, but it's only really ever about one thing: Trouble. Trouble reigns supreme. On any given day, a child's world of play may involve astronauts or aliens, soldiers or super heroes. But each and every day, trouble is never far away. And the trouble at the center of child's stories is at the center of all stories.
In fact, most stories follow a formula.
Science fiction author, Kurt Vonnegut, once postulated that, in fiction, trouble is so universal that writing narrative structures could be approached algorithmically. There it is: trouble literally at the center of the most elemental story arc, one that is universally familiar. Why? Because stories are fixated on trouble. Stories follow a pattern where ordinary heroes confront trouble and overcome struggle.
Business presentations often focus on data, but they need an element of storytelling as well.
Effective presentations require vision and clarity. And clarity can require data, which isn't necessarily the most dramatic narrative device. Data points can, however, make a very clear and persuasive case for a presentation. But we've all sat through a version of a presentation, the one crammed full of exhaustive logical data. It may be effective to an extent, but it never feels transformational.
The presentations we give can be informational and factual when that's what's needed. We just need to be careful we're not approaching this type of work with Spock's mindset and think about being more like Kirk. Dial down the pure data-driven logic in favor of more intuition and emotion.
Our presentations should show the world today (trouble) and what is possible tomorrow.
Any presentation opening should focus on introducing the gap between what is and what could be, the ordinary world and the ideal world, in terms that provoke and incite. We want to stir up our audience, so they listen intently as we then move on to explain what is at stake and what it will take to resolve the problem.
There needs to be a conflict or an imbalance that you allow your audience to perceive and guide them to resolve. This imbalance is achieved by juxtaposing what is versus what could be.
Our presentations can also leverage color appropriately.
Our presentations focus on trouble and how it is resolved. To help guide our audiences towards resolution, there are subtle techniques from cinema that we can draw on. It's worth considering the notion of color and the emotional associations we have with different colors. Interpretation of color varies by culture, but for example, if you are watching a shot with red overtones in a Pixar film, you're either watching a shot involving anger, danger, or love. Blue shots, on the other hand signal sadness, longing, heartbreak, or fear. We're only just scratching the surface of the complex world of color psychology, but one easy emotional string to pull is the more positive associations we have with warmer colors over cooler ones.
With a winning combination of data, storytelling, and color, we can connect better with our audience.
We should strive to weave a compelling narrative thread around our data points, add a layer of entertainment, and bring the persuasive power of story to our presentations.
This applies to everything from the latest cloud research to feature lists in our existing applications. Whilst Kurt Vonnegut joked that an algorithm could generate the shapes of stories via a formula, storytelling is a deeply human endeavor. We evolved with and because of story. The human mind was shaped for story so it could be shaped by story. It's definitely one area of work that is not under imminent threat from algorithms. Besides protecting your role from the march of the machines, we all have many good reasons to embrace story.
Thanks, Darren. (I culled the descriptions and images from his presentation.)
Do you have any storytelling tips? Let us know at [email protected].
Tips on storytelling are alive in the lab.