Story Work

For design practitioners, stories are a tool and a resource. The purpose they serve is to achieve goals, such as making sense of complex situations, and fielding and testing ideas. In design, stories have been used in formal ways for decades and are routinely brought to life in textual scenarios, design stories and storyboards. Research on the subject of Scenario-Based Design represents the largest body of knowledge on the use and efficacy of story and narrative in the field of design. Yet, many scenarios are characteristically narrow in scope and ‘thin’ on narrative. Design stories serve a particular need in Agile Design, and though storyboards may convey stories more effectively than either scenarios or design stories, they’re also more challenging and time-consuming to create. One deterrent for the wider use of storyboards may be the fact that there’s a distressing lack of theory, for which one has to turn to comics. Exceptions include Gruen (2000), and Stappers (2010).

As a result, many aspects of design story work are accepted as being largely mysterious. For example, little is known about how in strategic conversations stories begin to form and grow, or why some ideas that emerge from interwoven threads of narrative resonate more than others.

Erickson (1996) has floated the idea of ‘design as storytelling’, while Lupton (2017) went a step further to declare that ‘design IS storytelling’. In part to test these assertions, I looked into the question of whether designers could design by story and narrative alone, rather than by the traditional method of problem-solving or challenge resolution.

I developed a suite of paper-based resources, and called the approach ‘storienteering’.

The term Storienteering is a portmanteau of ‘storytelling’ and ‘orienteering’.
In relation to story work, the term means;
‘to (orient oneself) find one’s position in relation to unfamiliar surroundings.’(Oxford English Dictionary)

Erickson, T. (1996) Design as storytelling, Interactions, 3. 30-35.
Gruen, D. (2000). Beyond Scenarios: The Role of Storytelling in CSCW Design.
Lupton, E. (2017) Design Is Storytelling. Cooper Hewitt.
Stappers, P. J. ”Storyboarding for Designers and Design researchers”. 2010. Tutorial.