we are all made of stories in neon

A story makes us think: 

This could be us…. It could be me. 

What would I do in their shoes? 

Through storytelling we gain a perspective that opens up a whole new way of seeing, thinking and understanding of human centred experiences.

Stories  expand our awareness of others. They do so in a way that is both accessible and memorable –  more so than a report chock full of data, graphs and charts.  It is what makes storytelling a hugely powerful, meaningful and persuasive tool for communication – and marketing.

Stories in films, books, and plays introduce us to alternative worlds where we can  access experiences we might never otherwise imagine or encounter. That is: people like us, and not like us, in situations that may be based on reality, or fantasy.  In dramatic storytelling, there is always a temptation to sensationalise. To create something larger than life makes the story super-exciting – and that makes it stand out from all other stories.  

But stories that evoke quiet emotions and insights also stay with the reader/viewer.  We remember the sense of place, the detail, the mood.  We remember characters as people we admire and in whom we believe – even though we know they are fictional. 

In journalism and broadcasting many stories focus on dramatic effect for  maximum disruption. Typically, a story  depicts opposites and extremes: rich/poor, old/young, small town / big city, war/peace. The contrast heightens the dynamic tension. It creates sensation. It creates emotion – anger, sympathy and informs from a position of imbalance, distinction, light/dark. It is the obvious way to go. And it has become is the  cliché of lazy journalism and dumbed down broadcasting.

A story that creates distinctions, rather than commonalities, sets out to highlight marked differences. It does not look for subtleties or nuance, blurred lines or resonance. It affirms that the ‘message’ must be writ large – otherwise there is no story. 

This suggests that unless it is made so obvious you ( the viewer/ the reader) might not get it?  If a story is not about diametric opposites, then it may be ‘too difficult’  for people to understand because it may not maintain their interest. 

But, if we only tell stories based on extremes what about everything and everyone in between? 

The author, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie , warns against the ‘danger of the single story’.  That is, the incomplete ‘knowledge’ that we carry with us that it is based on a one-size-fits- all approach.  If we persist in only telling ‘one story’ (over and over again) it is all that people will hear. If we don’t see any other stories because we don’t see them as stories, or stories of value –  ultimately we narrow our perspective. 

It is so important that we represent the plurality of stories based on different lives, life stages, situations and lifestyles.  In real life these stories co-exist as a multi-layered presence of lived experience within our society. Being open to alternative views keeps it real; it stops it from becoming the same old, same old. 

Storytelling often highlights the individual.

It tells of their personal quirks and foibles and their experience of life and situates the individual’s experience as a time and a place, and  to a past and a present.  In this context it more easily explains where, why and how people react, think and behave. Knowing this, helps us to see more clearly their choices and their options. That is: the event/experience and how they see it. 

Storytelling  comes from listening and observing.

If people are to openly tell their story they need to feel comfortable  to do so. There needs to be empathy and lack of judgement.  

Often, it is the softer, unspoken insights that tell the real story; the story behind the story. To find out what people really think we need them to tell it as they see it.  And so, it is not just about what they say – but also how they say it. 

Everyone has a story to tell. 

Everyone has a legitimate and real story (and life) that is as meaningful as those depicted in the extremes –  if not more so.

In 1974, one of the very first reality TV series “ The Family” was first shown on British TV. Following the lives of a working class family from Reading, it documented their everyday life and family relationships. At the time, it made for compelling TV viewing.  This was something never seen before; an unscripted glimpse into the private world of family life.

Since then, there have been many fly-on-the-wall documentaries/docudramas highlighting everyday life. These stories may seem to be about very much – and yet they reveal such a lot. They seem more authentic, more relatable and resonate with people more easily.  

In interior design ‘the single story’ that is normally presented is:  “Before” and “After”. This standard formula works with diametric extremes: the unhappy client, a problematic space, a difficult process, a wonderful solution.

The designer steps in with a magic wand to re-work the space, solve all problems. Hey presto! 

Before: all misery and chaos. 

After: all happiness and delight.  

By presenting the designer as the person with all the answers and carte blanche it shifts the focus away from how, where and why people make everyday  design decisions. That is: design as an on-going process. Design as part of daily life. 

People all have different levels of interest and awareness of design; where it matters and when it matters. Sometimes they make big decisions, conscious decisions…. and sometimes very small, unconscious decisions. Being able to articulate their experiences and ideas as thoughts and decisions is key to understanding –  not just how people think about interior design –  but also how they see the problem. And indeed, if it is a problem.

It is not just designers who hold all the opinions and knowledge…and answers, in design

Voices, suppressed, hidden, lost and ignored are  powerful because they speak of things that affect us all.  

Peculiarities that would never, ever appear in generalised statistics may well turn out to be the key to a solution. A single mumbled comment or an aside can become a revelation. It can entirely shift how we see and what we think about that issue. When this is viewed holistically, within the environment to which people belong, it adds so much more. 

When we see someone else’s viewpoint we see what we previously missed.

Design affects everything that we do in our daily lives. To understand how the world works – and when it doesn’t work – we must listen, observe and learn.   

Personal accounts and observations are now widely used  in design research. They help us to explore different viewpoints. We acknowledge that everyone and every situation is different; therefore each person’s response is significant. It is how they see it. It is how it is – for them.

Which is why this website came to be.

Through the process of narrative story telling, different themes emerge and overlap in the context of lived experience of design. This enables the home, as a focal space of people’s lives, to present a spatial context of decisions and experiences. It places the home as a centre of lived experience. 

This is design in the broadest sense of human centred experiences. It explores the day to challenges people face physically and emotionally and as a continuum, across different different life stages.  

This narrative, is their story, in their words, as a snapshot in time. 

And then time moves on… and life changes …..and the whole process begins again…. 

Nuala Rooney

I am designer, educator and researcher developing creative and holistic human-centred insights across the social/spatial sphere.

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