Story Telling in Vision

Nowadays, story telling becomes to a key in marketing and communication. Yes, we can convey meanings with just plain text, but as the method of the information consumption increased, the audience demands a better way to receive the same information.  Stories engage listeners and make connections between cold policies and vivid family.

In common sense, story telling is considered an oral skill, which is part of presentation skill, because the practicers of story telling are usually leaders who are in the presidential debate, presenters who delivery their messages in TED talks, or even parents who share their in person experience to educate their children. However, story telling is more than just telling the story. It eventually finds its way into your daily life. Most of the documentaries you enjoy exemplify the power of story telling through eyes. (If you didn’t have a chance, you can check out Planet Earth II.) Documentary directors sculpt storylines with thousands of video clips and the voiceover. The voiceover guides you into place and set the context, and then the video presents how the story proceeds. Directors put their faith into video clips to replay storylines and expect that they can be understood by audience around the world. At the end, a simple line of voiceover to sum up the story. All together, an leopard fight was turned into an inspiring story about how a female snow leopard fought against 2 males to protect her daughter.

Even though story telling in vision is very close to its oral counterpart, there are several unique aspects that need story-tellers’ attention.

1. Recognizability

When a reviewer sees your visual work,  they can instantly tell what you intended to delivery, e.g. an ebook icon should not look like that for calculator.

This is easy to achieve when the meaning behind the graphics is tangible, but quite hard when the concept is abstract. For example, you can try to think about a graphic that indicates a promotion or a new position. If you have one, then you are quite creative; if you don’t, designers need to think about it, too. Here are some of mine.

Even if I tried to make the connection between the concept of promotion and something tangible in our daily life, such as text, upgrade or certificate of merit, the designs still have places to improve.  But as the idea evolves, you will get a good point where most of people will find comfortable to make the connection. This connection is a key to recognizability and the reason why download icon is always an arrow pointing downward.

2. Interpretation

Everyone is different, so each of us might see the same item differently.

Let’s play a game. Look at the following icon, and write down 3 meanings that you instantly get from it .

Without the context, it can be to restore your computer, redo, start over, or rotate clockwise.

Check out the refresh icon in your browser, which can be found in toolbar at the top of your browser and near the address field, and then look back to this icon, what is in your mind now? It means almost the same. 

Eventually every visual element goes through the same process to get the meaning that they represent in every reviewer’s brain. This process is context. Context is heavily impacted by culture and experience. When you design for a specific group of people, a good practice is to get know them, before you bring in new elements. If you have a global audience, you might want to use universal graphics to convey your meaning. An example is the traffic sign, “XING“, in USA. It means crossing, because X is some sort of cross there. But a Chinese tourist might think it is Xing, too, which means to go in Chinese language.

3. Ambiguity

I remember that there was a time, when I design an animation to illustrate a 4G network  for smartphone, my friend, Pippin, gave me a feedback that initially he thought the capacity of the smartphone is 4G. If an element that you use for your story have more than 1 meaning in the same context and social convention, then you need to specify which one you want your audience to know. You can, of course, create new element, if your timeline allows and it is very easy to recognize, but a simple way is to add symbols that lead to specification. In my case, I added a single sign to emphasize the meaning of network.



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