DESIGN THINKER PODCAST

EP#23: Oral, Visual, Written, Does How You Tell a Story Matter?

January 24, 2024 Dr. Dani Chesson and Designer Peter Allan Episode 23
DESIGN THINKER PODCAST
EP#23: Oral, Visual, Written, Does How You Tell a Story Matter?
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

How do you know the best way to get others to resonate with the story you want to tell? In the final episode of our series on storytelling, Dr Dani and Designer Peter explore the three modes of storytelling; oral, visual, and written. 

In this episode, you will 
• learn about the three modes of storytelling 
• understand how to select the right mode for the right audience 
• hear examples of how to tailor your story for the audience

Speaker 1:

Welcome to the Design Thinker podcast, where we explore the theory and practice of design, hosted by me, donnie, and me Peter. Hello everyone and welcome to the third and final part of our series on storytelling. In this episode, we talk about the various modes of storytelling, so let's jump into the conversation, hey, peter.

Speaker 2:

Hi Danny, how are you Good?

Speaker 1:

how are you?

Speaker 2:

I'm very well, thank you. Yes, good to see you again.

Speaker 1:

Good to see you. What are we talking about today?

Speaker 2:

Well, we're going to talk a bit more about storytelling and I think let's have an exploration of different modes of or kinds of storytelling.

Speaker 1:

Right. When I think about modes of storytelling, there's really three that come to mind for me, which is oral storytelling, written storytelling and visual storytelling.

Speaker 2:

My divergent mind is now thinking well, aren't there any more oral written visual.

Speaker 1:

The only other one that comes to mind in more recent times that I've seen, is this concept of digital storytelling. But to me digital storytelling pulls from oral, visual, written. So to me I think digital is more of a channel.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, that's what I was thinking as well.

Speaker 1:

So we usually start with defining things. So let's maybe define those three. Oral storytelling in lots of cultures have been the primary way of passing down stories. So when we talk about oral storytelling, what we're talking about is the spoken word. We see this in families a lot. Right, you may, in your own families, have heard stories about your great-great somebody-somebody, and you hear that story from someone and then you might tell your children that, your children might tell their children that. So there's a rich history in how we pass down stories by telling them. In our previous episode we also talked about the chemical response that we get when we tell stories. It helps us create bonds, so oxytocin, the bonding hormone.

Speaker 1:

So there's an actual chemical reaction in our brain that happens in the process of storytelling that's very much linked to oral storytelling.

Speaker 2:

I don't know if you know the answer to this. It makes me curious about maybe jumping the gun. I wonder whether anyone's measured or researched where that bond. In our terminology, what mode of storytelling creates the strongest bond? Is it oral, written or visual?

Speaker 1:

My hypothesis would be it is oral because I don't know if there's been any research on that. That's something that I could certainly look into. Similar to you, if I had to hypothesize, I would think oral storytelling would create the biggest bond, because speaking to each other is one of the ways that humans create bonds. If you think about how you and I first met and how our relationship evolved, it started with talking At first. It was very small talk, if you will, it was very Relatively small talk.

Speaker 1:

Relatively small talk for two very deep thinkers. We started with talking about Part of what happens when we talk to people is we find things in common. One of the things that we found in common right away is that we both immigrated to New.

Speaker 2:

Zealand.

Speaker 1:

Design thinking being part of our professions and our passion, we had a strong bond around design. I think that oral storytelling mimics that in a way. It gives us something. You shared your immigration story with me. I shared my immigration story with you. In that process we found connecting points to go. These are similar experiences. Pete is like me because, donnie is like me because and we have those bonds. I don't know that if that was in an email that it would have created the same level of bonding.

Speaker 2:

So oral stronger than written? And then how about the visual? Or maybe I'm jumping the gun here and I because we haven't even defined the written and the visual.

Speaker 1:

But while we're at it, I'm going to go to do it myself, because there's also a search that says that reading novels helps build empathy. I do think there is some bonding that happens with reading stories about people and I think your original question is which of the three would create the most? So I think the most. If I had to venture a hypothesis, I would say the oral storytelling. Yeah, okay.

Speaker 1:

Okay, so we've defined what oral storytelling is. So next is written. So written, as the name you know. So this could be anything from a book, a novel, a fiction, nonfiction, it could be blog posts, it could be. I guess it could be an email. Yeah.

Speaker 1:

It's where we actually use written words to tell a story. Like I mentioned, there is research that shows that one of the benefits of reading is it helps us build empathy for characters. It helps us understand perspectives that we may not be familiar with. So I do think, even in the written format, there is some chemical reaction that our brain has to reading the written reading stories.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, I mean that makes sense to me is that you know, when I there is something almost I'll use the word magical, something truly awesome.

Speaker 2:

I suppose that when you think about reading, so let's say, let's say it is an email, but you take some thoughts out of your mind and you can, you know, use your email mechanically, translate them into, into typing on a keyboard, which then translates into these days, not a typewriter but an ink on paper, but electrons on a screen, and then arrangement of memory in a computer, and then cutting the long story short, you know, those words appear in front of me, going through my eyes into my brain and translate into a thought inside my brain. So it's pretty awesome and it's true, true sense of the word. And not just that, but the then my imagination, and you know the, the translation of those words into my thoughts for me involves lots of pictures building up inside my mind. So, yeah, that's not surprising that there's that research about reading a novel or reading something and helping create empathy. You know, it's the channel from your mind, your imagination, to mine is amazing.

Speaker 1:

And also something that you brought up in your example. There is this two sides to written storytelling right there's, and we know also from research that when we write down our thoughts, there is a, there is a cathartic experience to that. This is why things like journaling is so impactful, similar to when we orally share stories, where I am sharing and that has a, that has a chemical reaction and you hearing the story has a chemical reaction. I think, similarly, writing down stories has the same. It's impactful for the writer as well as the reader.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, yeah, I've, I've read into that as well. You know whether there's stories about someone else or stories about yourself. Okay, so yeah, it's a couple of, on the surface, simple definitions. Oral storytelling is from when they're, when they're spoken. Written is when they're captured in words, and then let's go to visual, and then I'm keen to go right, let's break these modes into potential, I guess, channels.

Speaker 1:

So visual.

Speaker 1:

Some argue that visual is the oldest form of storytelling, because we were able to communicate with visuals before we had words.

Speaker 1:

When I did my research on design thinkers, the ability to visually communicate was was a strong capability of design thinkers, and when I dealt into that, one of the things that became very apparent to me is that so yeah, I think as a species, we had visuals before we had words, but we can also see that in our, in our existence today. Right. So the example that I use is children. They give us a very small child that hasn't started speaking yet a crayon and they will almost intuitively start making pictures. Now, you may not know what the heck they're of, but they are going through the act of creating an image Before they start speaking, right before they can formulate words, which I find really interesting because it's something that, intuitively, we know how to do from a very, very young age. Some inclined to say that visual storytelling is probably the one that, for us, it's probably the first form of storytelling we have, but in my research, what I also found is that it's the one that we deplete the quickest in our lifetime. Okay, so.

Speaker 2:

So when you say you when we deplete it? You mean, would tell us more about what you mean by that?

Speaker 1:

You have a young child. I assume that young child draws a lot. Yeah, yeah. Almost on a daily basis.

Speaker 2:

Yeah.

Speaker 1:

They tell you stories about their drawings.

Speaker 2:

Yes, that's true.

Speaker 1:

How many adults in your life do that?

Speaker 2:

Yeah, nice, nicely put.

Speaker 1:

And it will also be interesting for you to kind of think about this. So think about the age that your child is now and, two years from now, how that drawing drops. Yeah. Right. If you think about, like, making a pile of all the things they're drawing today and then all the things they'll be drawing two years from now, I can almost predict that the pile of two years from now is going to be smaller. Yeah.

Speaker 1:

I'd almost I could also venture the guess that their ability to communicate with more and more words is going to increase.

Speaker 2:

Okay, so in my mind I'm picturing See what I did there A bit of a two-axis chart where on the left-hand side we've got basically a declining number of drawings with an increasing number of words over time. Yeah, okay, so that's what we mean by depletion, and I can definitely, I'm sure we can all relate to. Yeah, you just use pictures less and less than your profession to play balls, visual communication of some sort.

Speaker 1:

And we're actively discouraged as we get older to not draw right. But like, if you think back to your early education, there was a lot of coloring and crayons and markers and picture books and all these things. And then, as you're, as you learned to read more, there were less and less pictures in the books that you were reading. And in my own education I remember like I used to be a constant doodler, so in class I would sit there and doodle, I'd take notes but I'd also doodle, and I remember being told off of that Like stop doing it and pay attention.

Speaker 1:

Okay. So I think throughout our lives we're also discouraged from that visual communication aspect.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, okay, and that's. I guess the interesting thing about that is that's. I would hypothesize that you know that that's probably our earliest form of storytelling as a species, like you know, 40,000 years ago, 40,000 year old kind of paintings or in caves in various parts of the world where individuals have kind of put their hands on the wall and made a stencil of their hand or drawn pictures of the animals they've been hunting. I'm gonna imagine that. Oh, I don't know, I'm showing my ignorance really, but my hypothesis would be that was happening before elaborate oral storytelling was occurring. So that was our first way of kind of passing messages and leaving stories behind, you know, either for the next people to come through that area, perhaps, or we can look at those pictures and understand the story being told tens of thousands of years later.

Speaker 1:

Absolutely. We had the ability to visually communicate, visually tell stories way before we had the ability to the spoken word. Compared to visual storytelling is relatively new. Okay, and like you said, like you know, we found cave drawings and we found all of these things that serve as evidence that that was the case. We haven't really found written words in caves. Yeah huh. And if we do, it was probably put there in the last 100 years. Yeah 100 years.

Speaker 1:

Yeah. So I think there's something very intuitive and innate about our ability to communicate with visuals and even if you think about things like you can look at someone and your brain will immediately register like, oh, that person looks upset, that person looks happy. So there's also these other things that kind of cue us to. Our ability to communicate visually is much stronger, and I think there's a statistic, there is a stat around this I don't know the specific number, but how. So much more of our communication is body language. So it's not just what we're saying, but it's how our body is right and those are visual cues that we pick up.

Speaker 2:

So we've got oral, written and visual storytelling. I think we can even just taking a pause and thinking about those three modes, if you like, helps us start to imagine, or understand, or realize, remember, I guess, the options available to us. So let's put ourselves in this situation where we're trying to help other people understand what we're thinking and we're aiming to tell them a story, to really bring something to life and do the things that we've talked about in the previous couple of episodes, so we don't have to try and put something in a PowerPoint or we don't have to write a report. Maybe you know what we think about the options we have available to us, especially now and with the technology available to us, and what are some of the different should we call them channels for each of those types of storytelling?

Speaker 1:

So I think in the modern age we have so many channels of communication right. We still have the channel of speaking to each other, whether in person, on the phone, although that seems to be now a primitive form.

Speaker 2:

Telephone speaking to each other on the telephone.

Speaker 1:

I know I joke about that, but I am still. When somebody calls me on the phone it still. It jars me a little bit like, oh my God, something was probably wrong with me.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, me too.

Speaker 1:

So there's, you know, we've got multiple ways that we can orally communicate, which is in person, we can do it on the phone and even now, like we're recording this, we're on Zoom, but we're still speaking to each other, so it's emulating an in-person conversation but we're in on spaces right and then written form. My favorite way of written communication is text messaging. Okay. It's also the way that I'm most likely to respond to you. Okay.

Speaker 1:

Then there's email. I think those are probably the two most prevalent ways that we communicate. And then, you know, in the context of storytelling, there's actually books and papers and blogs and those ways that we write right. Then, in terms of visual communication, I think those same things that our ancestors had, you know, using pictures to explain things, whiteboards, and in modern day we use things like Miro, PowerPoint, those things always enable visual communication with storytelling.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, and also kind of working back upwards from visual, you know, like photographs and videos. So making a short film of something could be, but that can be actually one of the most powerful ways of telling a story. Yeah, so photographs, video and then going to written yeah, maybe you know something as simple as a series of posters could be, you know, a good written form of storytelling, and then I'll lay back to Oro those songs and poems. Coming back to visuals, actually comics, well, I suppose comics are a combination of visual and written, but some of the best business storytelling that I've seen is either storyboards or comics. I'm not sure if it's still available somewhere on the internet, but when Google first launched their browser the Chrome browser, part of the launch was a comic. Literally, it was a PDF comic book that I've got at somewhere at least 20, maybe 30 pages long, and it told the story of what Chrome is, what it was, how it had been created, why it was different to other browsers. Yeah, that definitely went in my archives to use as an example and some inspiration for future storytelling. Yeah, for me personally, that started to get to the sweet spot where you're something magical, I think, about that sort of communication, a comic book where you've got just enough detail that people can understand it, but also they can in a comic.

Speaker 2:

If a comic book character is like a stick person, then they're slightly unrelatable. But again, if the comic book character is really, you know, finely drawn, almost a lifelike character, something like Catwoman or Spider-Man or something, that's equally unrelatable. They're too extreme, at the end of the spectrums. But if you draw a character in a comic book story and there's just enough detail that our brains can imagine who that person might be, or even better, if they can imagine themselves being that character and put them in their set, that's kind of really expect empathy but they can put themselves in the position of that character and kind of fill in the details. So that's just one of my favourite factoids about visual storytelling and comics especially. Alright, I finished on my comic book soapbox.

Speaker 1:

What you're touching onto here is also that while we talk about these three ways of storytelling individually, in practice we combine them. Also, for effectiveness, we need to combine them. If you created a PowerPoint that had absolutely no words and just pictures, it won't have the impact that it would if you had more pictures and some words. If you had a PowerPoint that was all words, and we've all sat through those presentations and we remember sitting through those presentations, but we probably don't remember what they were about because we've already tuned out right. So there is this balance of how do we bring these different modes of storytelling together to what's the most impact. The other angle of this that I don't think we talk a lot about when it comes to storytelling is around accessibility.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, okay.

Speaker 1:

So we think a benefit of combining these modes is then we make our stories accessible for people in the disability community, people living with disabilities.

Speaker 2:

Yes.

Speaker 1:

Right, If the only way that you know for only making videos, but our videos don't have subtitles, then how do we engage those individuals in the deaf community?

Speaker 2:

Yep, and I guess, similarly, when I've been thinking about every time we're mentioning written and visual, what's coming to mind is, you know, having braille versions of the stories available. And, yeah, from a technology point of view, and bringing us back to one of our channels digital storytelling. You know, there's so much technology built into lots of devices, apple devices especially, I think so much accessibility options that, as somebody telling the story, then you know we should be taking advantage of those to make our stories as accessible to as many people as soon that's possible, I think.

Speaker 1:

We've defined what these different loads are. We've talked a little bit about the power of combining them. We've talked through some examples, so you usually do what, why, how? Why is it important to think about these modes?

Speaker 2:

I think we've kind of covered it off, but for me, again, it's a good idea to just. I guess, if we're at the stage of our thought process, our design process, or we're in a piece of work where we realize we need to tell a story, then I think it's a good idea to go OK, let's not launch into our default way that we always tell a story. Take a step back and the things we talked about in previous episodes, let's think about your audience, think about the context and situation and then consider which of these storytelling approaches, or modes and channels, if you like, are going to be best. Because and the important thing I guess to take away is a different mode and channel is going to be better for some than others. I guess the key is, coming back to the audience is unlikely, I think, that a single mode and a single channel is going to give you the outcome you're looking for.

Speaker 2:

So you probably need to do some sort of matrix of here's audience, segment A, b and C and, without giving yourself too much work, I need to tell the story to the audience, and some of them you know, for example, an exec member who you might be lucky to get time with formally, but you know that you're going to bump into them in a corridor conversation or at the end of a meeting or something.

Speaker 2:

Then I think it's always useful to have you know your short, succinct, elevator pitch version of your story that you're going to tell them. So it's just going to be a pure oral story. So have that rehearsed. At the other end of the scale and you know the team that you need to actually get on board with the initiative and really understand some of the research that you've done and really bring to life the customers that they're going to be developing a product for. Then create maybe a series of short videos that are going to help them actually see the lives of the people that they're designing for. And kind of story for Same overall story just told in a different way for a different audience.

Speaker 1:

So another example I'll add to that is in research what comes to mind for me is so when I did my dissertation or thesis for my PhD work, there was that I had to write it. Right, I had to write it, and in PhD programs there's this very specific way that you have to write up your research.

Speaker 1:

Yeah okay, but then I had to do this defense where people were going to show up and I had to talk about my research and the people. So when you write the thing, the only people that are going to read that your dissertation or your thesis or other academics and maybe your mom Like it's. So it's for a specific audience that already understands why things are written in that way.

Speaker 2:

Yeah.

Speaker 1:

When you go to defend, at least in my program, it's open up. You know, your family comes, your friends come, people in the community come, your professors, all these people that show up. And I also wanted to tell the story of my research in an interesting way. So in so the first example, the dissertation, is in written format. There's a couple of visuals, but really not very interesting. But I had to take that same story and translate it now to something people are going to want to sit and listen to. So I used lots of visuals and stories to tell the story of the work that I did. So this, that's an example of where I took something that was in a written format for a specific audience and then I had to translate it using visual and oral a combination to make it palatable for a different audience.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, nice, and I guess you know that's relatable to you. Know, a lot of authors now are kind of especially, I guess, business book authors. I'll describe them as understand that really clearly, because if you go to their website they'll have you can buy the book, or you can go to their website with a blog and it's got a series of kind of excerpts of the books, of short form. But then you'll also likely find links to their YouTube channel where they're kind of explaining some of the concepts from their, from their book, and also, you know, links to podcast interviews that they've taken part in to help their audience understand more about the stories in the book from from that point of view. I mean, that's the best channel, isn't it? That's where everybody should come to.

Speaker 1:

Podcasts are obviously the best, but if you're not picking up on our sarcasm, that was.

Speaker 2:

Well, I mean, you could try reading a comment book when you're walking the dog, but you know, be prepared for chaos.

Speaker 1:

This is another important thing, right? We also have to think about like when. The idea of having these different formats of storytelling also has to do with when is somebody listening, Like? Yeah, yeah. I love to read and I love to listen to podcasts, but I'm not going to be listening to a. I'm sorry, I'm not going to be reading a book while I'm driving. Yeah, yeah.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, where I might be listening to a podcast. It's really hard to read a book when you're running. So there's, there's different ways that he you know. Again, this comes back to last time. We talked about thinking about your audience, and this is about thinking about your audience, right? How do you format your story in different ways that people can, or your story can meet people in the context of their life?

Speaker 2:

Yes, yeah.

Speaker 1:

Oh, the other thing I wanted to ask is do you think, as the storyteller, we need to have an understanding of what's our best? What are we strongest at? Well, yeah, I think the obvious.

Speaker 2:

The best answer to that is yes, we definitely do, and it could only be to that understanding helps us later our strengths, if you like. So the written communication is definitely not my strongest point, so maybe that means I'll need to get some help to write something from another human being, or maybe, you know, a bit of augmented intelligence AI can help these days. So yes is the short answer to not only yes, but that doesn't mean you should just stick to what you're strong at. I think you should recognize, pay attention to what the audience needs first and then, in the context of this business communication, this business storytelling, get help where you need it.

Speaker 1:

I have a slightly different view.

Speaker 2:

Oh yeah.

Speaker 1:

I agree with you. You've got to understand what's your strength. I also think you have to evaluate is there any value in you developing one of your weaknesses?

Speaker 2:

Yes, yeah, I agree with that.

Speaker 1:

So, for example, my ability to communicate through writing is much stronger than oral communication. Okay. Which is, you know, when I tell people that they find that a little bit odd because I've got a podcast, I do a lot of talks and things like that. That's a skill I had to learn, like I spent time in Toastmasters when I was at university. I was always trying to take those classes that would help me get up in front of people and talk it's something I had to learn to do. Yeah.

Speaker 1:

And I learned to do it because I recognize that if I cannot get up and tell the story, I'm never going to get things across the line. Yeah. I think there's value in thinking about is it a skill that you need to improve? Depending on your context or profession, the work that you want to do, it may not be, but I do think there's value in at least asking if I could improve. You know, how might I do my job better? Yeah.

Speaker 1:

Or would I be able to do my job better? Would I be more effective? So I think we do need to explore that a bit.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, agreed, yeah, yeah, I think it's rather than disagreeing with me or me disagreeing with you. I think it's like everything we just said. So, yeah, definitely recognize your strengths so you can make the most of them, understand where you aren't strong and if you need to develop in that area or wants to develop in that area, and then also consider where you might benefit from getting help. And also, you know, think about how your team's made up, because I'm sure there's different strengths in the team. All right, okay.

Speaker 1:

So we talked about the what, the why.

Speaker 2:

We talked about how. We talked about importance. Sure, what's your takeaways?

Speaker 1:

Wow, I feel like we've covered a lot of the ground here. We have Think about what my? Takeaways are. One of the things that sparked in me as we were having this conversation is when I was doing my research. I had a very, very strong interest in the almost the anthropology of visual communication. Yeah. Yeah, so maybe finding some more reading around that topic? Yeah, I think that's. That's the thing that I'm walking away from this conversation thinking about.

Speaker 2:

Nice, I'm probably going to take my own advice. And when I think about storytelling, they develop a checklist or flow diagram of if story, if storytelling, then, step one or step two, think about we've called it the mode and think about the channel, as in just like, start considering those. Then next step is audience and then start figuring out what, what the right mix is. There's some picture emerging of a tool that I could put together, a one page tool that might help. I'll share it with you when I've done a first draft, danny. You can test it as a prototype.

Speaker 1:

Let's do that. You can put it, you can pull the checklist together and I'll use it and then I'll give you feedback.

Speaker 2:

Okay, nice, that's a bit of visual communication and a bit of curious experimentation.

Speaker 1:

Yes.

Speaker 2:

To optimize our situation when we're collectively collaborating.

Speaker 1:

Nice.

Speaker 2:

All right, mic drop.

Speaker 1:

Mic drop Done for the day. Yeah, good chat, pete.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, great chat, danny. Thank you very much, as always.

Speaker 1:

As always. Thanks for listening everyone.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, Thank you listener.

Speaker 1:

We'll see you next time.

Speaker 2:

See you next time. Bye, bye.

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