A Novel Approach: Literary Tools in Experience Design

For museum people, “storytelling” has been a buzzword for years. But beyond “everything is a story,” what can we learn from literature about how we tell stories in spaces? In this session, we’ll share an approach to developing digital (and analog) experiences using techniques from literature to invite visitors to inhabit a story. Participants will put these tools into practice in a creative play and visioning session where we’ll all take on the role of creative storytellers. Track:Experience Design & Immersive Tech


Unknown Speaker 03:22
so hopefully some more folks will keep on rolling in. But we can start. Welcome, everyone. Thank you. And we're really excited for our talk today in our workshop that we're hoping to get to at the end. My name is Katie Savage. My pronouns are she her. I'm a white woman with long brown hair. Today I am wearing a white sweater. There's a lot of colorful things and plants behind me and I'm joining the call today from Philadelphia, on the ancestral lands of millennial not by people, and I'm an associate creator.

Unknown Speaker 03:56
And Hello, my name is Ksenia Dynkin, my pronouns are she her, I'm a white woman in my 30s with curly brown hair wearing black shirt. Today I'm sitting in my home office slash dining room in northern Delaware, which I want to acknowledge as the ancestral learning rapid lands as well and my role currently, as I'm a senior narrative strategist at Lucca.

Unknown Speaker 04:27
We included this photo of us back in the time when we were in the office applicant and we would match unintentionally. So frequently, we actually needed to plan our office today to make sure we didn't match. But good Sonia and I have been working with that for the past few years. And cadet is an experienced design agency that works both in across like digital and physical environments. We partner with a lot of museums and institutions to create different exhibits and experiences As we've been working together the past few years, obviously, we have different roles. I come from a design background, because then it comes from content and narrative background. And we found ourselves working a lot on early phases of concept and strategy for different projects with different partners. And we've developed a lot of different techniques over the years. And as we've been kind of reflecting on our time and our work together, we did start to notice a pattern of a lot of these different tools, having a lot of similarities with different literary devices. And that has kind of become now a big part of our practice and what we do. So today, we just kind of wanted to share with you some, some areas where we, we see this play and in our own work, and then we really want to spend some time with a fun workshop. At the end.

Unknown Speaker 05:57
I'm so I'm an exhibition as a room with a plot, you know, this idea, I think it's been kind of thrown around a lot, we've always loved this, this sort of quote from Abbot Miller, because that summarizes in this little sentence, a lot of thinking that people have done over the last decades about, you know, creating narrative within exhibitions, and the sentence works, it's really resonant, because, you know, we know that like, as human beings, we, we love stories, stories are the way that we understand our experience, and you know, our place on Earth and in the universe. So this sort of overlay of story and plot in space. Makes a lot of sense. You don't have to sell it too hard. But, um, you know, we know, plot and storytelling have been discussed a lot. But we actually wanted to talk today about kind of a more direct and closer mirroring between experienced design, exhibit design, and then literary device. So like, beyond a plot, what actually makes that plot in the room come to life? What can we learn from storytelling and literature about crafting a good story? And how do we apply those techniques really consistently in our practice? So you know, beyond just a story in a room? How do we make it a good story in a room. Um, so a few examples, a lot of these terms that you can see up here on the screen are probably familiar to a lot of us from, you know, high school, and maybe even Middle School. But, you know, we do think that normal exhibitions have a lot in common with strong writing. Some of these examples are more straightforward, and almost like more physical, for example, like a motif, a motif we almost think of as a design system, right? So seeing similar visuals throughout the course of you know, your visitor journey creates the sense of consistency, the sense of repetition. But some of the techniques, you know, are less obvious and more thought provoking, in our opinion. You know, how can foreshadowing work in an exhibition? How can we foreshadow something? How can we position different things together to create some interesting and maybe like paradoxical, paradoxical juxtapositions. So today, we're actually gonna maybe just take a handful of these literary devices and show some examples of how we've applied them in an exhibition practice. And then we'll kind of dive in a little deeper to one of them. So we're gonna look at repetition, metaphor, vignettes, and personification.

Unknown Speaker 08:44
And as we go through all these examples, we'd really encourage you to use the chat, if there's anything here that we're talking about that. And like your project you've worked on, or a project you've seen in the wild comes to mind, like, please throw them in there, we'd love to just like see your ideas, too, and participate. So the first one that we wanted to talk about was repetition. So obviously, using a word or phrase multiple times, kind of in close proximity to another. And here we're looking at this photo showing these seven kind of portrait stations at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in Seattle. And each station is featuring a personal narrative video from seven different very different people. And visitors kind of move around to watch each video at all the different stations. And because it's a digital experience, it's digital content, all of the videos could have existed on one single station, but by separating them it creates Not only this, like visual sense and this visual rhythm in the room and in the space, but it also indicates to a nice commonality between these very different personal stories. Another example of a bukata project that we could take a look at some an experience for the Henry Ford museum kind of larger scale or is your digital As well, and again, dropping in the chat if you have any ideas in mind too. But this is also can be really successful experientially. Because if if the the paradigm that you're asking folks to to learn is new to them. So you know, the video screens, maybe it's more straightforward, you're hitting play, but then you're kind of teaching them a new behavior, and then allowing them to put that into practice multiple times, which can be very successful. Another example, vignette. So a small scene focused on on particular moment that's really meant to provide context. So this is an example of an enemy Ah, of this 200 year old house that's partially reconstructed, actually, inside the Smithsonian. And the way that the curators kind of broke it up was each room is set to a different time period and showcases a different family. But what we did was we didn't live and each room with projections and sounds. to kind of create these, what we really did refer to as these little more intimate vignettes, with words, with words and with images of people. And this is, this was great, because it gave this really like momentary glimpse into the lives of the folks who live there at that time. You know, the idea was also to kind of tell this story of history that you know, not only these, like key figures, or how we kind of tell and make history, but also in the lives of everyday people. And it's great because the rooms are set up very, you know, with furniture and objects from the time but the way that this, that was able to work was it was able to easily layer and have a time based elements that popped into these micro stories and really created these little asides. Another example, this is probably one really familiar to all of us personification, giving human attributes to non human beings or things. This is an example of a project that we worked on a suite of media for this exhibit called river live, I'm located here in Philadelphia. This is an exhibit geared towards kids, which is, I think, an area where we see personification use quite a bit. And the idea here, there's using these really fun, charismatic river creatures to help visitors Connect personally with big ideas about ecology and conservation. Much like the fish cleaning up the river, down in the bottom, right. And as we were thinking of examples of this, the clearest examples were audiences for kids that we we kind of thought of, and but we know that personification, like as a device in literature is really resonant with people of all ages. So again, if you can think of any examples you want to share with us where you've seen personification used for maybe your chortle some more adult audience, we'd love to hear from you.

Unknown Speaker 13:00
Know, we have kind of one more example here share with you today. metaphor. This is probably one we use in our work the most often. It's this idea of comparing two unrelated things or ideas. Here's a conceptual rendering for an experience where we were thinking about the metaphor metaphor of a well, and you can kind of see some of the the metaphor kind of came through, quite literally in this experience. But we were thinking about how do you handle content for a collection that has millions of objects kind of this unfathomable depth? And we were thinking about, you know, there's all the steps What about like this, this kind of bottomless well, that you might be able to pull things up from? And how would you pull things up from and how can you find things maybe. And so in some of our earlier ideas, when we were thinking about this, we were we'd like, actually very literally thought about, you know, a well, it's rounds, how do you maybe put send your bucket down, pull something up, find something that is meaningful to you, and it really did have an influence. On the actual physical design, you saw that the touchscreen experience, you came into the round, we thought of the interface design, feeling like it's bubbling up, it's bottomless, there's a depth there, but you're able to explore kind of endlessly this, this deep, deep, vast collection. And, you know, like I said, metaphor is something that we do focus on a lot, and it's something we'll also be kind of working through together in the workshop. I also don't know if it's any of you wanted to just see some stuff in the chat. We can maybe just take a quick moment before we jumping to the next part of the experience. Yeah, it

Unknown Speaker 14:51
looks like a couple people. Had some examples, one from the mat and then another examples about the secret labs. of objects. I think it was a really good point that like, it's not necessarily about, you know, the use of technology, this is really more about a way of thinking and developing ideas, which is a perfect segue into how we actually we'd like we want to share an example of how we use this in practice and like in, in our process, so I think, you know, we love metaphors. But you know, one cool thing about this idea of literary devices is that, we've shown some examples of how they can show up and kind of like a final product. But we also use metaphor a lot in concept development and in our process. So this is going to be a quick example of how we use a metaphor as sort of these guiding principles and an early concept phase. So this is an example from a early concept that we did for a project for the Library of Congress for a brand new youth space, that would be opening to the public someday in the future. And very early on, we develop these three metaphors for the experience, the kind of became, again, these guiding principles. So you know, this whole experience for youth like is the whole idea. That is it a series of reading rooms, which in other words, would actually like mirror, the way that the Library of Congress itself is set up? But for a youth audience? Is it actually this idea of a hero's journey where kids might take on a particular persona, and then sort of travel along this path of discovery, where like things happen along the way? Or, you know, is it actually this idea about the oracle of the stacks, and kind of going all in on this idea of librarian that's almost like this magical died, who might help you find a question that you don't even know you've had, and kind of find your spark? Again, as the project continued, we kept coming back to these over time to sort of validate new ideas and make sure that things kind of hung together. So talk quickly about each of these and how we use them. So again, this is super early in the stage, and we didn't really want to think about designing the space, we were trying to develop a framework for why and what people would be doing. And we later on kind of tone, mood imagery, motifs, etc, to tell these stories. And, you know, we share these with our partners, we use these collages that Katie made that describe the tone and mood of the space, we also use written narratives, sort of these walkthrough narratives, which I know are probably familiar to some of you as a tool, but we're able to describe what people did and how they interacted and how they felt rather than, you know, showing something really tangible. We also use super, super preliminary, you know, diagrams to call out some sketchy, sketchy ideas about the space on the next slide. So this is the hero's journey metaphor, you can see the tone is really different, really different imagery. And on the floorplan over there, you can see that we're starting to sketch in some super loose ideas about like, what might a visitor path be, if we're talking about this idea of a journey, like it's going to be really different, it's going to wind around, etc. And then this last one, the metaphor of this oracle of the stack, so it's, again, a totally different tone, it feels a little mysterious, it's, you know, dusty library. And in the walkthrough, we might talk about, you know, how that would feel to the visitor, how they would experience a sense of mystery. And again, in the diagram, we're starting to sketch some, like spatial moves, like, we know, there's an Oracle, it's a thing, it's in the beginning, it's big, it's Central, etc. So just a quick example of how we use some of these, you know, early on in concept to kind of make the jump to design decisions really quickly, but also within a framework that has like a big central point, and kind of hangs together.

Unknown Speaker 19:11
So we have lots of time now for a workshop, which we're really excited about. So we kind of showed you how some examples how we might kind of in our own process users, but we thought it'd be really fun to do this together today. So we thought we could put this into practice by applying this to a hypothetical scenario. So the Museum Computer Network, so we thought, Hey, what about a pop up exhibit on computers? So here's our pitch for a speculative exhibit called computers and us. Imagine this is a pop up exhibit traveling around the world. The kind of key audiences that would might be included here. Families, so people who remember a time before computers existed, people who grew up with computers People who are kind of almost in like, post computer world on their iPads or phones all the time, you know, people have very different relationships to this. And if you have like a piece of paper or a pen handy, that'd be great, then you could follow along, if not totally fine, you could take screenshots, kind of save it for later. But if you do follow along, we'd love to kind of see anything that you create today, that would be really amazing, too. So we're going to have this pretend scenario. And we're going to now generate some some ideas and concepts, or an exhibit.

Unknown Speaker 20:44
So as part of our imaginary, the imaginary Museum of Museum, Computer Network, Museum, we're going to be kind of digging into an area that is going to be like a sub exhibit of this larger exhibition. So we're going to be digging into what was the Family Computer. So you know, today, we think of computers as personal devices, everyone has their own computer, doing their own work, doing the wrong thing. You know, even my first grader has computer that he uses for school. But if we go in the Wayback Machine to the time of Beanie Babies, and AOL, and we imagine the screeching beeps of our dial up modem. We think of the family computer room, with the desk in the corner and the Family Computer. So that's sort of the setup that we're going to unpack today. Again, very imagine. Yeah, I think we all are feeling very cold out. This was a fun, this was a fun imaginary exhibit to come up with. So I think what we want to do as we are going to take this prompt of what was the Family Computer, and we can actually bring some metaphors to get brainstorming some metaphors together for this pretend exhibit. So if folks want to write in the chat, just like an experiential metaphor that this makes you think of, so the Family Computer was like a whatever. So one example we have, for me, it was inside the Family Computer was like a hearth in the home, that the family might gather around in the warm glow of the screen, and, you know, play Minesweeper. Just kidding, sort of. So, I'm gonna stop talking for a couple minutes and just let everyone think for a minute, but like, please go ahead and drop any ideas in the chat and, you know, open brainstorming rules, no bad ideas. I think the point is to like generate as much stuff as we can right now.

Unknown Speaker 23:04
These are great.

Unknown Speaker 23:06
Okay, and we're gonna do our best to try and keep up and copy these into the

Unknown Speaker 23:22
to these little squares.

Unknown Speaker 23:49
I love so MANY of these words, I just want to make sure that we can or keeping up with

Unknown Speaker 23:56
getting these in here.

Unknown Speaker 24:01
portal, the same portal a few times. The computer I need to make a phone call.

Unknown Speaker 24:12
I love dinner table. That's great. Just making sure that we're trying other things. Okay.

Unknown Speaker 24:56
That's amazing, Ellie.

Unknown Speaker 25:00
Also like kind of a good idea, a window, that window to the

Unknown Speaker 25:05

Unknown Speaker 25:14
Maybe just to give everyone another half a minute or a minute or so. Gonna make us

Unknown Speaker 26:08
we're a call.

Unknown Speaker 26:30
Parents needing tech support all the time. A questionable Oracle.

Unknown Speaker 27:08
Something that needed patients. That's interesting, something that sort of needs care.

Unknown Speaker 27:16
Do we have a few more to add? Or did you? These are all great, everyone, thank you so much.

Unknown Speaker 27:26
Maybe we should just pause for a second and sort of like, review what folks wrote. In the next piece of this, we're gonna ask everyone to sort of choose one that they think is interesting and do something with it. So if anyone has any reactions, responses, something that like you want to kind of plus one, let us know, either in the chat or feel free to unmute. I,

Unknown Speaker 28:00
I will just say one thing that I think is interesting is thinking about whether it was the Family Computer in the very early days of the internet, where it was about that kind of like his boom, screech of like connecting on the modem and get off the phone. Or if it was the Family Computer, even before the internet, where it was about, you know, games or tech support or word processing like that. Even that seems like a separation of

Unknown Speaker 28:23
two separate paths. Yeah.

Unknown Speaker 28:28
Yeah, there's that duality of like utilitarian uses, and then entertainment, you know, play uses. So I was thinking about that.

Unknown Speaker 28:47
Do any of the metaphors speak to that duality at all?

Unknown Speaker 28:52
Trying to think

Unknown Speaker 28:54
up the telephone. All right.

Unknown Speaker 29:16
Do you want to pick one now? Or do? Do you want to keep going? Because

Unknown Speaker 29:25
maybe we can keep going and sort of showed the example. And then you folks can pick their own? Yeah. Okay.

Unknown Speaker 29:35
So then the next step in this and this is where your paper and pen or pencil would come in handy is you could actually draw this grid on your piece of paper, and we're going to fill it out and show an example of how we would have filled it out too. And you can, you know, some simplify to metaphor field do components. But this would be kind of how we would start thinking about this metaphor. So first, obvious Choose a metaphor, then we'll talk about different inspiration that you can draw from it, imagining what your visitors would be doing during this experiences and think about all the things you need. So, like I said, we went ahead, and we used her horse as our experience metaphor, and kind of came up with this example. But then again, we'd really love to spend some time doing one together. So when we were thinking about, what does it feel like? How will visitors feel so thinking about a hearth is the center of the home, it's intimate, it's warm, it's cozy, it's maybe somewhere that everyone's kind of gathering, you're sitting down, like thinking about what to do, you're sitting down somewhere that is very comfortable. Any type of like, actual physical action might be adding a log to the fire, or, you know, building your little past six in the beginning to get the fire going. And then you can actually just sit back and relax and, and watch something. And then when you're thinking about what you might need, so maybe, and if you were to make this experience, maybe a large couch, or maybe a really comfy bench, or maybe some hoops or Ottomans for people to sit on or put the feet up on and thinking again, about the question of you know, what was the Family Computer, maybe you might want some kind of proper or something era specific, that kind of harkens back to the time, so maybe an error specific computer might feel appropriate here. But there's gonna be lots of things you know, where our experiences in digital design, but again, it can be physical can have no tech involved, but different objects and media. So once we kind of filled in this matrix, we kind of chopped started just kind of like spitballing some ideas. And here's an example output of what you know, you might kind of like build after filling in the matrix. And here, we're suggesting, you know, this big couch, everyone has lots of room to sit down, maybe there's actually a computer there that looks like a 1980s Macintosh, and you actually go out you there's a floppy disk on the table, you insert it, and that actually is the thing that triggers this large immersive video kind of like projected on the surface behind this computer. And maybe at times, it plays off the computer, IT projects, you know, like projects, things on it. And that kind of creates this like central location. And again, this is maybe like a very literal example of like, thinking about, okay, you're going to add something, and then there'll be this moment where you get to sit back and watch. So adding the lock to the fire, maybe is akin to triggering the video with the floppy disk. And I think it's totally okay to if you're not a visual person, this is just like one output, you don't have to sketch it could also be kind of a written experience description, thinking about what people are seeing or feeling or doing. And you could almost just kind of, like, write this through descriptive imagery and text to, and then maybe kind of like the examples Ksenia was showing earlier. Pour some different references or imagery that could help you illustrate it further. So totally doesn't have to be a sketch either.

Unknown Speaker 33:22
Reading I'm sorry, I'm just reading comment from the chat. Yes, exactly. So it's like a period room that you could live in. So um, you know, the hearth example that Katie and I, but Katie just shared. This was literally the first as we've been talking about, this was the first idea that came to mind. And we kind of challenged ourselves to see if we can like, run with it, not because we thought it was like a great idea. But just because the goal is actually to generate like a ton of ideas. And as we go through this process, this is the process we actually use, you know, we don't usually use the grid in this particular way, but to generate lots and lots of ideas. And the interesting things tend to percolate and bubble up. So I think what we want to do now is, I think we can do this sort of in two ways, we would love to do one of these together and kind of work together on one metaphor, as a group, we have kind of a smaller group than we feared. So I think this will be great. But then, if folks want to actually just follow along and do their own on your piece of paper with whatever metaphor strikes your fancy, that's great, too. So we'll do one together. And if people want to do their own as well, that's awesome. And we have about like, 10 minutes left, so we kind of have plenty of time to actually do this. So I think the first step is we're going to pick a metaphor, maybe as a group. So should we can click back to our metaphor slide. And if people just want to put in the chat, what like is resonant to them and hopefully it'll have there'll be at least a little bit of concurrence and we can, we can select one.

Unknown Speaker 35:28
Any ideas that people like I think the portal came up a few times in the chat when we were initially doing this once that Oracle is interesting, I like Oracle as well. Window portal, maybe portal and window can be sort of like, together Should we try like a portal window?

Unknown Speaker 36:01
combo and

Unknown Speaker 36:02
again, if someone wants to do a different, you know, metaphor on their own, that's awesome. We just wanted to do one together as well.

Unknown Speaker 36:25
Okay. Now my computer was like a portal or window.

Unknown Speaker 36:31
So I think we like to start with feel and how might visitors feel encountering this portal or window?

Unknown Speaker 36:45
Anything that comes to mind?

Unknown Speaker 36:55
sense of wonder confusion. Yeah, I would second that. optimistic. Curious.

Unknown Speaker 37:03
curiosity. Before good.

Unknown Speaker 37:16
I like the idea of confusion as a deliberate sort of move. experientially, that's interesting. Here, curiosity and empathy, ready to explore. Great. Next time we can go try the do so I feel a little afraid. Yeah. A little worried,

Unknown Speaker 37:57
well afraid.

Unknown Speaker 38:04
What might visitors do? So again, this would be you know, sitting, looking, talking, observing, poking anything, any actions or

Unknown Speaker 38:20
activities that folks might do. Take a first step. Hearing

Unknown Speaker 38:43
Oh, that's cool. Writing a simple program. Opening a Windows this idea of like opening something that you can pass through that opening a door or window. I love that. Maybe thinking about a portal that's something you'd like step through, be something

Unknown Speaker 39:23
speaking past from the chance to

Unknown Speaker 39:28
Oh, I love that. Yeah.

Unknown Speaker 39:38
Creating physicality and stepping through navigating a maze is a really great

Unknown Speaker 39:57

Unknown Speaker 40:05
That's gonna be our closing activity actually, we're all gonna imitate modems are imprinted on our brains.

Unknown Speaker 40:16
Cool. Um,

Unknown Speaker 40:23
and lastly, the components, I actually wonder if we want to each sort of think about this independently, because we can really go in a lot of directions with this. So thinking about, like what this could actually be and come together to get like I love this.

Unknown Speaker 40:45
Thank you all for having as much fun with this as we did.

Unknown Speaker 40:50
Um, but if folks want to just think for a couple of minutes about like, what it could be in the broadest sense of the word, and maybe we can do just a little share in a minute or so. What are some of the things that you might need to kind of put this together? Is that are there certain objects? Are there? Is it digital media? Is it a video? Do we have props? Is it a period room? Are there facilitators? Are there don't sense is there? Is it a performance? Is there furniture? Is that a birdhouse whatever it might be? So I'll stop talking for a second to let everyone think

Unknown Speaker 42:07
I should add, if you're a visual person and want to sketch something in your notebook, we can sort of like, you know, hold it up. For sure out if you write something and we can put it in the chat Either way, it's great.

Unknown Speaker 43:43
Okay, we only have a few minutes left. So I'm gonna start reading some of these or actually, you know, if anyone wants to like unmute and share their idea.

Unknown Speaker 43:54
Let's do it.

Unknown Speaker 44:04
I'll do mine. So I sketched this idea of a literal portal that you've walked through the walls are covered with graphics that represents screenshots of people's AOL chat records from the era of the Family Computer.

Unknown Speaker 44:27
radiology when

Unknown Speaker 44:30
sure I was not getting as physical as that, which I think I would actually prefer to do something like that if I were visiting this exhibition, but I was just thinking that it might be nice to have like you could have kind of mock ups of those early discs that were used that you could kind of insert into the computer and then what would come up with sort of like some examples or some very small kind of mini replicas, I guess, of the kinds of activities that were done on early computers. So it's like, oh, you want to learn about games, okay, here like insert the disk that says games. And upward comes some of the different types of games you could play. Like, you could try Pong for a second, you can try, you know. Or you could try like WordPress sent word processing, you could put that desk in. And then it was like, This is what it looks like on the screen when it was like white text on a blue background, or, you know, like, you could try coding. And it was like, here's how you were writing like, very early program scripts, so that it would be kind of like an interactive of what you would use these early computers to do with your family.

Unknown Speaker 45:42
You know, we only have one more minute, so might want to. That was awesome. Thank you, Rachel, have any final

Unknown Speaker 45:51
thoughts? I'm sure.

Unknown Speaker 45:58
If you, we can do our last slide here. But it's pretty much just to say if if you did some more and sorry, we don't have time to hear some more shout outs. But thank you, Rachel, for sharing. And thank you for everyone who participated in the chat. If you want to just drop us a quick email and tell us what you came up with. That would be really awesome. We'd just like love to see what you worked on. And if you want us to share and you want to see what other people came up with to send us an email. And we'd love to just kind of like share out with you all. So thank you again for joining us today. Our emails. Are there any questions or thoughts? You are more than welcome?

Unknown Speaker 46:36
Thank you, thank you very much. And one of the best interactive experiences like this is a group that I've ever so

Unknown Speaker 46:45
fun. Thanks, everyone. I