A few thoughts on storytelling

In my field I hear the word storytelling a lot. What is it exactly? Storytelling is a verbal journey that a companion or complete stranger is able to lead us on. It’s a tool to connect us all – regardless of creed, color or background – on a human level. The deepest level. It makes us realize that we’re not all so different.

In November I was working on a brand redesign and thought that the identity would be so much stronger if the founders of the business would tell their story. How did the business develop, what is their inspiration and what were the challenges they faced? Every business in the world should be this transparent if they want to reach their potential customers on the deepest level. Stories stick with us, effect us, and change our behavior.

I’m fascinated by the way my experience of places changes once I know the story behind the walls. I want to create a platform for people of Madrid to be able to share their stories, and I’m sure they have lots of them. The site will be place-based and, ideally, it will point out that our surroundings are more connected to our life stories than we may realize.

There are a few precedents that I enjoy very much for different reasons. I’ve written about Jonathan Harris’ creation, Cowbird, here, and here is the story that I contributed to the site a few days ago. The ‘saga’ is the defining principle of Cowbird, which for now the only one being Occupy Wall Street. Further down in the site hierarchy there are many other defining principles; people, relationships, subject tags, loved, etc. This is a layered and complex site, but SO beautiful and easy to navigate.

The stories are gorgeous and touching. Harris has given artists, poets and journalists a safe space to express their otherwise private moments. The website is turning into a smorgasborg of love, pain, longing and curiosity. There is this great capability of adding sound to the story as well. Something that this author has done really well. I feel so comfortable contributing to the site because I know that the most important thing is that my contribution comes from my heart.

Before I moved to Madrid, over the past year or so I noticed this ‘pod’ outside of City Hall (‘pod’ being a term from one of my architecture-ish classes).

Designed by Local Projects, a design studio in NYC, Storycorps booths give people the opportunity to sit down and record their life story in forty minutes. Especially significant because of the ten year anniversary of 9/11, many of the stories were from family of the victims who used the opportunity to connect others with the memory of their loved one.

Local Projects works on a plethora of storytelling projects, including this video for Stone Barns and this platform for people to tell tales of their center of town. As long as it’s called “Main Street” people can submit photos, audio and written accounts of what happens on their Main Street. Local Projects is a studio of master storytellers with the ability to create meaning from a conversation, and to turn a conversation into an event. They call these projects collaborative storytelling, and it’s very interesting to me that the most important aspect of their success lies with other people’s ability to listen.

New York Writes Itself is a ‘production’ about New York by the people of New York. As they say, you can’t make this shit up. The ‘script’ is an running Twitter-ish feed of random contributions from people all around New York City. I like the brief format with a steady stream of updates, and love the tone of the site (I mean, just check out the chairman), but I wish there was more imagery – there would be some really good photos to complement the anecdotes of the city. This site definitely has the cool-factor, and the theme capitalizes on NYC being the film-making capital of the world. I also enjoyed seeing the recent collaboration with letterpress artists recently shown at the Art Director’s Club.

So what is all this? It’s not about advertising, branding or selling products. It’s about finding what is most important in each of our individual lives, maybe understanding each other and our environments a little better, and possibly restoring some of our faith in humanity.

Published by Elizabeth Pizzuti

Design, art, and cats mostly

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