Igniting a New Era of Story

If you believed everything you read about Los Angeles, you’d think it was clueless and soulless, but then you would overlook nifty little events like this, an AIGA event called "Motion Graphics: Today and Tomorrow." 

Yes, I know that anyone who works with PowerPoint as a communications medium is not supposed to mix with people from other communication professions, particularly serious designers who create opening titles for movies, commercials and motion graphics. Fire_2 After all, when they get together they talk about hip and trendy issues that we couldn’t relate to, such as strategy, storytelling, storyboarding, rhythm, pace and narrative. No one who communicates with PowerPoint wants to know anything about that, right?

Of course the reality is that anyone who uses a visual medium to communicate faces the same challenges as everyone else, whether they use PowerPoint, After Effects or Maya. You could argue that using PowerPoint is theoretically harder than other design challenges, because it’s a tool you use not just to compose graphics, but also integrate them with your physical presence as you deliver them real-time to a live audience. But in any case, the problem is the same — how do we communicate effectively with other people?  According to what was said at the event, the singular answer for motion graphics designers is: tell a story.

One of the most interesting quotes of the evening came from Jesus de Francisco from the critically-acclaimed design firm Motion Theory, who said something to the effect:

We are at a point now where technology has liberated us from focusing on technology, and now we can concentrate on what really matters — the story.

Likewise, those of use who are not professional designers have the technology we need on our desktop to be productive. So now what?  If the motion graphic design industry is an indicator of trends, the next place we will concentrate is on what really matters: the story. The other evidence I have that a new era of story is being ignited, is that one of the largest companies in the world has recently adopted a new one-word mantra to guide all of their corporate communications: story.

The only problem is that the word story itself is just as undefined in the design profession as it is in corporate communications. What exactly do you mean by story: An anecdote? A fictional Hollywood story? A non-fiction news story? Ask 10 people and you’ll get 10 answers, although they will all agree that a story is important.  It may turn out that the fact that we all agree is the most important achievement, and as we go along we’ll work out the details on how to structure and present the right kinds of story we need for our specific situations.

Tip: If you’d like to start unlocking the story in your presentations, try out this article titled The First Five Slides. No matter whether you work in PowerPoint or in another software program, consider including all of the classical elements of a story in your next communication, including a setting, protagonist, conflict and resolution.

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4 Responses to “Igniting a New Era of Story”

  1. Fascinating post, Cliff. I’m going to explore how I can use this to make presentations to prospective investors.

  2. Dan York says:

    Great article, Cliff! Glad to see you posting regularly again… congrats on finishing the book.

  3. LeMel says:

    What is the “[large company] that has recently adopted a new one-word mantra to guide all of their corporate communications: story”?

  4. cliff says:

    Thanks for the comments!

    Actually, LeMel, a number of big companies reportedly find the use of stories important, including 3M, HP, IBM, Du Pont, Kimberly-Clark, Patagonia, Disney, and Nike.

    There’s a great deal of ambiguity when it comes to the word “story”, even among people in entertainment and advertising. What people refer to as a “story” is often a personal anecdote that can serve the purpose of supporting a point and relieving an audience of bullet point boredom.

    But I think the huge value is in storymaking, which is the structuring of information using a narrative form. In Beyond Bullet Points I introduce a “persuasive story structure” that uses a classical 3-act framework to appeal to a blend of emotion and reason; which is then translated into a storyboard. I would distinguish this from an “entertaining story structure” which predominantly appeals to emotion.

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