If there is one really important thing I really wish I could tell anyone who wants to tell a story; it is that the key to good sketching is the ability to leave things somewhat unrefined whilst also making them self explanatory through storytelling.
Ever since reading the Marie Kondo book about cleaning some years ago I’ve tried to take some extra steps to keep my workshop in order. As most artists and creative professionals know, this is a near to impossible task and perhaps even a somewhat unreal expectation to hold on to inside your creative office. Between the various artist equipment, extensive collections of fabric and clay working tools and machinery, digital and virtual reality equipment, hobbyist plant nursery and inspirational books collection there seems to be sketch pads and paper stacks everywhere.
While the sheets of scribbles fill folders in my cloud files and in my work space, collecting all my sketchbooks together has given me a chance to think about my own interests in visualisation: Concepting and drawing technical, descriptive sketches.
As much as I am a passionate illustrator I have a less known passion of As much as I am a passionate illustrator I have a lesser known passion of drawing understandable visualisations of various research topics, especially in the fields of science, technology and storytelling. Sketching, in contrast to finished art, became a far better suited visualisation tool, especially whenever my work would be centered in creating experience or inspiring the audience to work with me.
Concepting is a great tool and really helps me in product development. When working with my first projects as a virtual reality product designer there was an interesting question I had to tackle: How to best explain virtual reality experience to the customers that I also needed to help me in communicating their own ideas they could implement?
Virtual reality was often visualised with no (bulky and restricting) headset visible at all. This would help the final user in immersing themselves into the real-like experience. As an animator I couldn’t help pondering that removing “the tech” from between the developers and users in visualisations might actually add steps into the design process in later stages because it would remove a key part of how we as humans perceive things.
In my experience with emerging technologies I have found that it is the technicalities that often feel overwhelming to a customer and even team members who want to get into the loop of things. Communication often gets tricky when the limitations of technology and the creative output of a customer’s visions collide.
My own way to approach this is to combine storytelling and even a bit of humor into the user experience technicalities. As a rule of thumb I have found that the more steps there are in the process, then the more it will help to have empathy towards the human experience and towards the struggle of wrapping one’s head around an entirely new topic.
Thankfully, the human mind is extraordinary in having a natural motivation to learn and to understand new things, generally referred to as the need for novelty. This makes me as a concept designer of new things hopeful because it means that ultimately every person who walks across my path could feel motivated to hear my ideas. While knowing there is audience, it is getting the message across to them that defines communication and in this I like to quote the master of storytelling, Ed Hooks, as he writes about empathy in his book Acting for Animators:
“Your job (as a character animator, or in this case, as a storyteller) is to create in the audience a sense of empathy for your character.
What is more, empathy happens instantly. The illusion of life rests on empathy and the reason is evolutionary. We humans act to survive and gravitate naturally towards survival strategies, even if they are different from our own.”
So putting this together, whenever I use empathy to convey a message in my concept designs, it is very likely that the receiver of this message also works really hard to understand it automatically. As communication with others is my key interest in designing, it is empathy that helps me in describing all the fascinating new ideas and plans.
My favourite hobby as a child was telling stories with my sister while drawing the details and key events of the story constantly on paper. We could spend hours doing just that, drawing and explaining. It’s fun to realize through all these drawing pads that I continue to do what the much younger version of me also liked.
Interesting further reading:
1. Nicole Gravagnas thoughts pulished by the Forbes Feb 5th 2018 about fundamental human motivation: https://www.forbes.com/sites/quora/2018/02/05/six-fundamental-human-needs-we-need-to-meet-to-live-our-best-lives
2. Ed Hooks, Acting for animators by Routledge. Acting principles, empathy and sympathy.