Storienteering is an agile approach to storytelling developed for use in creative design settings. Download stats and requests for storienteering worksheets suggest that the approach is being used in many other disciplines and settings.
The word ‘storienteer’, is a portmanteau of “story” and “orienteer”. In relation to story work, the term means; ‘to (orient oneself) find one’s position in relation to unfamiliar surroundings.’(Oxford English Dictionary). Storienteering refers to either a person or a group of people engaged in the act of orienting to or finding their way with design stories. Storienteering is supported by a suite of bespoke/custom resources (below) that enable designers to spin, craft and share strategic stories. Storienteering approaches and resources are underpinned by narrative theory and Story Research.
Narrative resources are categorised according to use.
Content Exemplars support narrative composition through the provision of story content.
Discourse Prompts invigorate discussion and support narrative expression.
Narrative Fugitives are resources that emerge in practice to fill gaps in story work.
Content Exemplars support narrative composition through provision of paper-based prompts that either represent or can be inscribed with story content. Many Content Exemplars take the form of card sets. Card sets are well suited to activities that involve the creation, sorting and configuring of lists, categories and other forms of information. Apart from their low-cost and usefulness, cards are easy to create, adapt and edit. Since these card sets underpin the creation of stories, they are broadly referred to as Story Cards. Story Cards include;
Actor Cards are used to help designers learn how to compose fictional scenarios or stories by providing a cast of actors. Once designers become familiar with the process of composing stories with fictional actors, events and other narrative content, fictional actors can be swapped-out for real actors and other fictional content can be swapped-out for real content.
Even Cards are used to help develop the plot-line of stories as they unfold through a sequence of events. They're typically used in conjunction with Dial-a-Plot and, like Plot Themes, are often assigned at random.
The role played by Content Cards in story work differs from that played by other cards, which explains their distinct shape, colour and inscriptions. While the primary role of Story cards – such as Event cards and Location cards – is directive in that they give information intended to guide activities, the primary role of Content Cards is acquisitive, in that they hold information that may otherwise be overlooked or lost. Used almost exclusively with Visual Plot-line, their resemblance to Post-it Notes is not accidental. Blank space is used to make notes.
Bespoke (custom) Content Cards
This set of bespoke Content Cards was designed to provide supportive prompts for a design story about future bereavement. Note that each card has a distinct shape and colour to aid recognition.
Locations have considerable impact on stories. Not only do they shape events and set the scene for happenings, but they can be meaningful for particular actors. Location Cards very simply describe where events in a story take place.
For designers involved in building fictional characters into their scenarios or stories Trait Cards provide some envigorative prompts.
Post-It People were developed to support creation of 'Visual Plot-lines' (See #Narrative Fugitives), so they are particularly useful in storytelling activities that concern themselves with plot-line development and, more broadly, visualisation of stories. Often used in conjunction with Content cards, Post-it People provide designers with simple figurative prompts that act as 'placeholders' and mnemonic devices that make reference to key actors in story work. These particular Post-It people were laser-cut from standard Post-it Notes. However, anyone with nimble fingers and a pair of scissors could whip-up a few of them in a matter of minutes.
Discourse Prompts invigorate strategic conversations that help designers develop stories that are well structured and effective as narrative resources.
Sometimes all a design story needs to make it more meaningful and memorable is a good plot-line, something that helps the audience understand what motivates actors, underpins actions and drives events toward resolution. Here, proverbs can be a handy narrative device, for they can help designers to invigorate the plot-line of their story. Proverbs are commonly held truths that are often expressed as metaphors. Metaphors operate on a principle of comparison. For example, 'a stitch in time saves nine’ is like missing an opportunity to take care of something that will get out of hand if left unchecked.
Proverb Randomizer is a game-like activity that comprises a chequered game board, a pair of three-sided dice and a set of cards. The board is divided into four quadrants, each of which features the work of a famous artist. Play commences by choosing a theme or artist and throwing the three-sided dice. Numbers on the dice give the coordinates of a proverb in the chosen quadrant.
Once a proverb has been assigned at random, the story author reflects on the narrative principle that underpins the proverb and attempts to weave it into the plot-line or storyline of the story.
Event Map is adapted from a model described by Chatman (1980:54). The model helps designers plan and manage strings of events that determine the plot-line of a story. There are two types of events to consider; kernel events (a) have a significant impact on the plot, whereas Satellite events (c) have less impact and consequently can be changed more readily. Events are clustered into Blocks (b).
- ‘Scenarios […] often lack the plot development and drama integral to a compelling story’
- (Gruen et al., 2002:504).
Dial-a-Plot rectifies this by supporting plot development during story authorship. The resource is underpinned by ground-breaking narratological work conducted by Vladimir Propp, a Russian Formalist who, after studying over one thousand Russian folktales, discovered that there were no more than thirty-one common themes, or plot functions (hereafter referred to as 'Plot Themes'). The three segments of the dial represent the ‘three-act structure’ – a concept used in theatre and narrative construction that divides the plot-line of a story into a ‘set-up’ (beginning), ‘confrontation’ (middle) and ‘resolution’ (end). Eighteen numbered Plot Themes are arranged around the dial; six in each segment. Dice are rolled and participants draw Plot Themes. Then, chance and randomness take over as designers are prompted to use their imagination, think narratively (Bruner, 1985), and draw on the tendency of the prepared mind to make sense of disparate bits of information.
Not all design story work concerns itself with the creation of new scenarios or stories. Often story work involves editing, adapting or building upon existing stories that are either being developed and refined, transposed from one medium or mode of language to another, or critically analysed and deconstructed. In these situations a set of Plot Themes arranged in a table or frame' provide a simple yet flexible solution. Below is an example of a StoryFrame with notes taken in a story-spinning activity.
Seed stories are incomplete stories that provide starting points and/or end points for narrative development work. Seed stories harness the human tendency to draw on personal experience to make sense of ambiguities and bring closure to doubtful situations through the completion of stories.
Seed stories work on the same principle as sentence completion.
Narrative Fugitives are resources that emerge in practice to fill gaps in story work. They appear to act in a number of interesting and diverse ways when designers are confronted with the challenge of dealing with both story (content) and discourse (expression).
Visual Plot-line enables rapid capture of essential elements of narrative, such as actants, events, actions and happenings. Using hand-drawn graphics, annotations, Content cards and Post-it People, stories are sketched-out either on whiteboards or large sheets of paper. Once expressed, Visual Plot-lines provide a framework for creating narrative (re)presentations in a variety of media, such as refined prose, storyboards or video enactments. The aim of visually describing the plot-line of a story is to turn what is often expressed in rough, general and abstract terms, typically open to wide interpretation, into a form that demands concrete particulars, interpretations of which can then be openly discussed.
Named after the by now quite ancient television game show, "20 Questions" is a list of questions composed by designers to initiate desired conversations that not only probe for answers but also raise or touch on issues that resonate for design. Here are some example questions:
- 1. What is the formal, working relationship of the communities in question?
- 2. How are the communities distinct, what defines their differences?
- 3. What are the routines that relate most closely to the boundary issue?
- 4. How do these fit into the rest of the workflow?
Narrative Blueprint is a kind of affinity diagram. It lays out and brings into focus key factors in play when designers are engaged in coming to grips with the settings or contexts of a problem or challenge. Centred on a timeline of narrative events, the arrangement of Post-it Notes provides the means to field, discuss and assess design concepts and scenario permutations.
Aspect Maps draw on diagrammatic approaches used in the creation of cluster maps, affinity diagrams and 'scenario matrices' (Schoemaker, 2008: 286). They provide a means for designers to spatially arrange information related to their subject of inquiry. They facilitate information gathering and organisation (grouping/clustering) as well as affinity-based ideation.
Bruner, J. S. (1985), Narrative and paradigmatic modes of thought. In Learning and Teaching The Ways of Knowing. Chicago, Illinois: University of Chicago Press.
Chatman, S. (1980), Story and discourse: narrative structure in fiction and film. Cornell University Press.
Gruen, D. (2000), Beyond Scenarios: The Role of Storytelling in CSCW Design.
Schoemaker, P. J. (2008) Forecasting and scenario planning: The Challenges of Uncertainty and Complexity. In Koehler, D. J. & Harvey, N. (Eds.) Blackwell Handbook of Judgment and Decision Making: Wiley.
Use of storienteering resources has been documented in the following cases:
- • 2021 – present: Post Graduate Research student workshops, Northumbria University.
- • 2020–21: Masters in Design Innovation workshops, Northumbria University.
- • 2020: MA Design for Industry student workshops, Northumbria University.
- • 2019–21: Communication Design student workshops, Northumbria University.
- • 2018–20: Second-year illustration student brief, 3-Narratives, Northumbria University.
- • 2013: Near Future Design workshop at Frontiers of Interaction conference, Milan, Italy.
- • 2012–14: Five empirical studies conducted in the course of completing a PhD. Studies were conducted at Newcastle and Nottingham in the UK, and Delft in the Netherlands.