Jennifer Morehead

Interactive Storytelling

IxD 350

This design course focuses on the storytelling component of interaction design with a special focus on prototyping and motion graphics. Exploring different types of prototyping, from paper prototypes to digital, screen-based prototypes (e.g, web based tools, video prototypes), students use storytelling to describe experiences in interaction design. Students use a hands-on approach to design a better experience for end users by sketching, storytelling, experimenting, making and testing. Students create prototypes at different levels of fidelity using appropriate tools and technologies.

Professor

Maxim Safioulline

Timeline

August 31 – December 15, 2020

Role

Writer, Researcher, Designer

Tools

Pencil, Illustrator, Adobe XD, After Effects

Week 7: Expressing the Story Visually

Download Assignment
reference image

This week we reviewed storyboarding techniques. Despite all of our insecurities about drawing, we focused on best practices to quickly visual ideas and communicate story beats. Our team each collaboratively created images to create a 7 minute visual sequence for Valhalla. We used a consistent theme of black and white with the exception of key colors. We used green for the trees to emphasize the restoration of the Earth, red for H2H, the ruling AI system, and a blond hair color to identify our main character, Echo.

Week 6: Write the Story

Download Assignment
reference image

This week we focused on writing a story based off our concept and feedback. Keeping a visual board of the characters and environment helped to make the story feel alive as we ideated on the details. As a team, we held brainstorm sessions where we each contributed our thoughts and written ideas until it formed a cohesive story. Probably our biggest focus was motivation. Why would our character be motivated to revolt against a cultural system? Incorporating backstory and consequenses helped us build character motivations that made sense and were rooted in her responses to plot events.

Week 5: The Thing From the Future

Download Assignment

The Thing From the Future is a game that encourages players to come up with a hypothetical opject from the near, medium, or distant future based on selection of randomized criteria. With this exercise we were randomly put into groups and assigned an Arc, Terrain, Object, and Mood. From these elements, we ideated on a thing from the future and built context for a story surrounding it. Our story is called Valhalla and imagines a clean and effiently AI run world in 2120 where humans willingy give their bodies to science when their age determines them to no longer have value that outweighs their use of resources.

reference image
reference image

Week 4: Storytelling for UX

Download Assignment

Reading Chapter 13, Combining the Ingredients of a Story from the book Storytelling for User Experience by Whitney Quesenbery and Kevin Brooks helped me to understand the basic elements of a story, their significance, and how each contributes to an effective narrative. The following quotes stood out to me.

The perspective (or perspectives) you choose limits what the people in the story see and experience.

The example in the book talked about a group of blind men describing an elephant while each is only exposed to a different part, such as the trunk, the leg, or the tusk. The lens through which you tell a story will define how the story is perceived. News media is often like this. A right-wing vs left-wing news publication will cover the same news event with opposing agendas. The perspective of the story has a great deal to do with how much information you give the audience as well. Do you provide backstory? Are you sympathetic to one character more than another? Perspective can allow us to root for the bad guy if we know enough about him to understand his motivations. If we aren’t given that information, we don’t care. For the purpose of telling User Experience stories, we should write from the perspective of the person experiencing the problem. We should empathize with their background and goals and help the reader visual themselves from their perspective.

Show don’t just tell. Find ways to communicate characteristics that describe actions (“show”) rather than just piling on a series of adjectives (“tell”).

This suggestion seems like one that separates good from great storytelling. The way we describe a character can impact how deeply the reader will connect with her. Writing that a character is budget conscious vs writing that the character spends two hours on Sundays clipping coupons to make sure her paycheck lasts until the end of the week will likely resonate more deeply with the audience. I appreciate that the advice is specific to action words. This makes the writing feel more alive. We are advised not to merely describe, but to use the characters actions to paint a better picture.

You can build context in just a few words, letting the audience fill in the details. All stories rely on our ability to fill in the blanks. As with character, the details you leave out are just as important as what you put in. While there are no hard and fast guidelines about what to leave out, consider leaving out noncritical details that might be fun for the audience to fill in for themselves.

I struggled a bit with this idea. The book offered many ways to add context to stories; physical, emotional, sensory, historical and memory. That said, what is the right amount of context? What do I want to allow the reader to make theirs and what context do I want to direct? If I follow the notion that the reader should see themselves in the story, then which details do I leave out? I think this idea will take time and practice to develop. Only through writing stories and receiving feedback from a diverse audience do I anticipate I will have a better grasp of this strategy.

Don’t let the stories become a procedural description of how to use a product.

This last quote seems simple, but can be overlooked, especially from a user experience design perspective. We are trained to be procedural when researching and prototyping. It is natural that this thought process would spill over into storytelling. We must remember that a story has a different rhythm and flow. A story is not a manual or a list of bullet points. We should strive to tell stories naturally through micro-moments. What is the character trying to do or learn? When they try to solve their problem, what happens? Let’s use these stories as opportunities to put our products and solutions into real world scenarios.

Week 3: The Hero's Journey

Download Assignment
reference image

Christopher Vogler outlines the stages of the Hero’s Journey in his book, The Writer’s Journey. I found the diagrams that he included to correlate the stages to where they fall in a three act play helpful. In general, the outline and explanations all made sense and were helped by including examples from known films and stories. These particular quotes stood out to me as meaningful guides for creating believable character motivation resulting in good storytelling.

In any good story the hero grows and changes, making a journey from one way of being to the next: from despair to hope, weakness to strength, folly to wisdom, love to hate, and back again.

I feel like this statement greatly summarizes the goal of the hero’s journey. For a story to carry weight, the protagonist must grow or evolve in some way. For a character to grow, she must be challenged. Subtle changes don’t make for a compelling story. Over time, we all experience growth, but we typically have situations in our life that make us question our beliefs or test our weaknesses. How we respond to those situations are the triggers for the most impactful changes in our personal character and dictate the next stages of our life. These are the stories we want to tell.

Movies are often built in three acts, which can be regarded as representing I) the hero's decision to act, 2) the action itself, and 3) the consequences of the action.

When Vogler talks about stage 5, Crossing the First Threshold, he talks about it as the turning point between Act One and Act Two. Putting this moment on a timeline is helpful from a writer’s perspective and makes sense as a natural breaking point. I also appreciated how he related these moments to romantic stories and not just adventure and mythology. Committing to entering a relationship with another person can take courage. You know that you may be uncomfortable, you know that it might be scary, but you are willing to put yourself in that position for a greater reward, love.

In Titanic, after initially refusing Jack’s call, Rose commits to entering Jack’s world, rejecting her own family and stereotypes, casting aside what other’s may think of her. Jack can’t offer her wealth or stability, but he can offer her adventure and exhilaration like she’s never experienced. She is willing to take the risk for what she considers a greater reward.

Sometimes the Elixir is treasure won on the quest, but it may be love, freedom, wisdom, or the knowledge that the Special World exists and can be survived. Sometimes it's just coming home with a good story to tell. Unless something is brought back from the Ordeal in the Inmost Cave, the hero is doomed to repeat the adventure.

This sentiment really stuck with me. What does the character bring back from the Ordeal. If a character survives the challenges she is faced with, but is not changed from the experience, then what was the point of the story? The hero may go on a quest for a physical item, or to defeat an enemy, or to attain love, but how has the experience of that quest affected them? I wonder if this is why sequels never work as well as the original movie. The first time we meet a character, we don’t know if she will be up for the challenge and if she will survive. When we witness her overcome great obstacles and transform her character with greater integrity and mental resilience, we are assured that we can leave the story, that she will be ok. A sequel must present a new obstacle that will challenge the hero in a different way, otherwise, there is no challenge to overcome.

Vogler’s overview of the Hero’s Journey helped me to relate it to many types of stories and characters, not just mythical adventures. His examples allowed me to see scenarios from romance to drama as related to the journey. My biggest takeaway is the idea that the values are of most importance. As Vogler writes, “The images of the basic version — young heroes seeking magic swords from old wizards, maidens risking death to save loved ones, knights riding off to fight evil dragons in deep caves, and so on — are just symbols of universal life experiences.”

Week 2: Working With Story Arcs

Download Assignment
reference image
reference image

Identify the emotional shapes of your 3 favorite stories. Draw them out and annotate the key points.

The Phantom Tollbooth

  • Exposition
    • Milo is introduced. He is bored and uninterested in the world around him. Finding the tollbooth in his room is the inciting incident
  • Rising Action
    • Milo meets new and unusual characters and begins to show signs of curiosity
    • He embarks on a journey to rescue Rhyme and Reason
  • Climax
    • Milo and his friends, Tock and Humbug, escape demons to rescue Rhyme and Reason from the Castle in the Air
  • Falling Action
    • Milo and his friends are congratulated on their achievements and order is restored to the Land Beyond
  • Resolution
    • Back at home, Milo sees that life is fuller and more exciting than he realized

story shape drawing

Ex Machina

  • Exposition
    • There is very little to no exposition as Caleb is introduced quickly as a winner of some prize with the inciting incident being him flown to the remote house of the company CEO for the weekend. We don’t learn anything about Caleb.
  • Rising Action
    • Caleb meets Nathan who introduces him to Ava, an AI. Caleb interacts with Ava and forms and emotional connection to her.
  • Climax
    • Caleb discovers Nathan’s disturbing behavior with the AI’s in the house, questions his own humanity, and devises a plan to help Ava escape.
  • Falling Action
    • The plan goes wrong and Ava kills Nathan. Caleb ends up locked in a room in the house as Ava escapes.
  • Resolution
    • Ava sets out into the real world looking fully human with no one to suspect otherwise. Caleb is abandoned in the house to likely die.
story shape drawing

Alone Season 6

  • Exposition
    • 10 contestants are gradually introduced as they are dropped off in the Canadian Arctic, isolated from each other
  • Rising Action
    • One by one, contestants left tapped out from the show, either for injury, health concerns, or loneliness.
  • Climax
    • The strange aspect of this climax in this story is that none of the contestants know who else remains. The story becomes more focused on the last 3 contestants. All three struggle for food, but Jordan kills a moose.
  • Falling Action
    • Even though Jordan is eating moose every day, he is losing weight due to its low fat content. He stores the kidney fat from the moose to render and eat, but some wolverines end up stealing it. Through all of this, Jordan remains calm and unphased.
  • Resolution
    • After over 70 days in the wilderness, one of the final three contestant’s shelter burns down and the other is removed from the show due to her low weight. Jordan learns he is the last one standing as his wife meets him in the arctic to bring him home.
story shape drawing

Create a 3-act story spine using your "What if.. " scenarios. Fill it with the beats for each of the acts, but no need to go into small details.

What if: Pixar Story Spline

  1. Once upon a time, a survival show winner named Jordan, was flown to a remote location to meet the show producer to discuss his win and future opportunities.
  2. When he arrived, he met Nathan, the producer and his companions Ava and Kyoko. They continued to get to know each other. . .
  3. Until one day the house burns down and Nathan dies in the fire.
  4. Because of that, Jordan and the two women were forced to travel many miles in the wilderness by foot to the nearest town.
  5. Because of what happens on the journey, Jordan learns that the women are actually intelligent robots and Ava disassembles Kyoko for spare parts.
  6. Because of that, Jordan questions Ava’s actions and motivations since he met her
  7. Until finally he pushes Ava off a cliff
  8. And ever since then, Jordan lives with the internal conflict of having killed someone vs having saved society from the dangers of robots like Ava.

What if: 3 Act Story with Beats

Act 1

  • A survival show winner named Jordan, got flown to a remote location to meet the show producer, Nathan
  • When he arrives, he meets Nathan’s assistant, a mute named Kyoko, and Ava, a colleague who shows an instant interest in him.

Act 2

  • The next evening, Ava wakes Jordan because a fire has started in the house. Jordan grabs his backpack, they find Kyoko and run outside. Nathan is nowhere to be found.
  • The three of them are forced to trek through the wilderness to reach the nearest town.
  • Along the way, Jordan is attacked by a wolf, but Ava swiftly saves him by killing it with a rock. He is grateful, but more surprised by her ability.
  • They find a natural water source and he encourages the women to drink. They decline and Ava is forced to reveal that she and Kyoko are not human.
  • When they continue their journey, Ava falls and her leg is crushed by a rock. She disassembles Kyoko without hesitation to restore her own leg and keep the rest for spare parts.

Act 3

  • Jordan is confused and full of conflicting thoughts as they forge on. He asks her many questions about her time with Nathan.
  • The two stop at a picturesque cliff as they realize they are just a short trek to the town. Ava turns from Jordan and he pushes her off. Ava grabs Jordan’s hand and he falls to the ground, forced to look her in the eye. He grabs a knife from his bag and slices her wrist, sending her crashing into the ravine.
  • Jordan stands, puts the artificial hand into his bag and heads on to the town.

Read Nielsen's From User to Character and write a couple of paragraphs of responses.

Nielsen examines the different approaches to writing scenarios for case studies and how it attributes to their effectiveness. He looks to film scriptwriting as inspiration for how scenarios can be improved by character descriptions. The characters in film scriptwriting are engaging with personal motivations that impact the flow of the story. The personas in scenarios on the other hand tend to be flat and stereotypical.

The author examines scenarios from two authors on scenario-based design methods, John M Carroll and Alan Cooper. Cooper’s scenario is more user description focused whereas Carroll’s scenario is more use or task driven. Nielson deduces that both scenarios lack character insight and focus on story action rather than character development.

Neilsen looks to authors Lajos Egri and Andrew Horton for insights to creating believable, rounded characters. Egri believes the writer must consider the physiology, sociology, and psychology of a character, each of which influence the character’s behavior. Horton looks at a character’s inner consciousness and self-consciousness as well as their interaction with culture and society.

I think it’s valuable to move away from stereotypes as personas and create more rounded characters. Neilsen points out though that users descriptions and development should be grounded in knowledge of actual users, not fiction.

Week 1: What if?

Download Assignment
story image story image story image

Which emotion do your favorite stories leave you with? Has it changed over time? How are those similar among the three and how are they different?

The three stories that came to mind are wildly different from each other regarding setting and characters. Yet all three; The Phantom Tollbooth, a children’s book, Ex Machina, a contemporary thriller, and season six of Alone, a survival reality series, all resonated with me in way that made me think about how I see myself in the world.

The Phantom Tollbooth is a children’s book about a bored young boy named Milo who travels through a mysterious tollbooth in his room and goes on adventure in the Lands Beyond. Reading it to my son as an adult was new experience because I was able to enjoy the wordplay that I had missed in my youth. Ex Machina explored the relationship between a man and a humanoid robot using visually stunning effects that allowed for a level of realism that wouldn’t have been possible in years prior. The Alone series placed 10 individuals in the arctic, isolated from each other, with only 10 items to survive for 100 days. The story narrows in on the final 3 contestants and their personal relationship with survival. In some ways, all three stories focus on human introspection. Miles’ journey awakens his senses and he reflects on his own attitude towards what is meaningful in his life. Caleb, the central character in Ex Machina questions his own humanity when faced with feelings towards a machine. Jordan, the last remaining contestant on Alone, succeeds because he is already at peace with himself and can focus on survival without the mental conflict of isolation.

Put a character from one of your favorite stories into the world of another. What would happen to them? What would they do? How would they interact with the characters of those stories?

We could suppose that Jordan from Alone, a tall, late thirties, outdoorsman, was sent to spend the weekend in the remote multi-million-dollar home with the tech CEO Nathan as a stipulation of winning the reality show Alone. Perhaps Nathan is also the executive producer of the show and wants to discuss future opportunities with Jordan. Also, in the house is the mute humanoid AI Kyoko, and Ava, a beautiful and advanced humanoid AI. Jordan and Nathan are opposites with Jordan being uninterested in technology and Nathan having his life defined by technology. The fact that Kyoko and Ava aren’t human wouldn’t be immediately revealed to Jordan as they get to know each other. Ava would be very curious with Jordan as she is programmed to learn to be human. Jordan would begin to feel uncomfortable with all the attention as he is not and extroverted person and enjoys time alone. Nathan would act as the observer pushing Ava and Jordan to spend time together to understand how his AI creation responds to humans.

Think of a few interesting and intriguing "what if" questions. Pick the favorite of your "what if" scenarios; tell us about the world it would be taking place in and the main characters. Give a character a goal and some obstacles.

Jordan is helicoptered to a remote area of Alaska to spend the weekend with Nathan. Shortly after arriving and meeting Nathan, Kyoko and Ava, a fire breaks out destroying the home and killing Nathan. Jordan, Kyoko, and Ava remain with Jordan still unaware that Kyoko and Ava are not human. Jordan surveys the burnt land realizing there is no way a helicopter can come to pick them up and they need to try and make it to the nearest town 20 miles away. The three of them start on their journey through the wilderness.

Along the way, Jordan is attacked by a wolf suffering serious bites to his leg. Ava kills the wolf with a rock and treats and bandages Jordan without hesitation. Jordan is surprised at her survival skill and questions her background. Ava explains that she learned these skills from the internet. On the second day of their journey, Jordan finds a fresh water source and encourages the women to drink, but they refuse. It is then that Ava reveals that she and Kyoko are robots. Jordan is confused and surprised, but curious at the same time. He questions why she saved him from the wolf to which Ava responds that she didn’t want him to die.

Jordan has many new emotions but realizes they must forge ahead if he is to survive and get back to his family. Later in the day, Ava takes a bad fall on some rocky terrain and her leg is irreparably damaged and crushed. She cannot walk. Kyoko proceeds to remove her leg to repair Ava. This is hard for Jordan to watch. He knows that they are not human, but he has still developed human emotions for the two. Now that Kyoko is too impaired to walk, Ava disassembles her for parts to take with her. Jordan is stunned. He doesn’t know if he should be amazed or afraid. While he had not connected as deeply with Kyoko as he had with Ava, watching her being taken apart piece by piece is unsettling.

As they continue their journey, Jordan asks Ava about Nathan. Jordan learns that this is all new technology and that Ava has never been out in the real world. The wheels in Jordan’s head start turning. Did Ava save him because she cared about him or because she needed him for her own survival. Jordan realizes the significance of a creation like Ava and her potential impact on the world. As the two see that they are approaching a nearby town from the height of a cliff, they stop to enjoy the view. Jordan knows that he is the only one who can prevent this technology from entering society. As Ava turns away from Jordan to face the view, Jordan pushes her. She grabs his arm and Jordan falls to the ground with Ava dangling off the edge of the cliff, grasping his hand so tightly that she breaks his fingers. Jordan grabs a knife from his side pocket and jams it into her wrist and she falls into the ravine. Jordan lays there with Ava’s hand still attached to his and looks at the wiring beneath the artificial skin. He puts it into his backpack, bandages his hand and continues his journey home.

“Stories constitute the single most powerful weapon in a leader’s arsenal.”

Dr. Howard Gardner, professor Harvard University

storytelling img