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From the Design Quarterly: How do designers use narrative as a tool?

July 16, 2018

By Daryl LeBlanc and Greg Meyer

Ask an expert: The art of storytelling practiced in built projects ranging from America’s most popular attractions to China’s historic fortresses

Storytelling is an important tool in design. Nowhere is this more evident than the world of themed entertainment in which storytelling is foregrounded in the user experience. We checked in with members of our design team in Orlando, Florida, (Daryl LeBlanc and Greg Meyer) to talk about the art of storytelling as practiced in built projects ranging from America’s most popular attractions to China’s historic fortresses.

Why tell a story? What does storytelling have to do with design?

Greg: Design is a symphony of images that are experienced in time and space. The narrative is the script that ties the images together.

Is using storytelling about seeing things from the user’s perspective early in the process?

Daryl: In our world, storytelling has everything to do with the design of compelling and memorable experiences. The story establishes the framework for how we make design decisions. Everything is filtered through the lens of the story—how does each component relate to or enrich the perspective?

What are some of the tools in storytelling?

Daryl: We make extensive use of quick sketches, illustrations, renderings, storyboards, experience mapping techniques, even character narratives. Lately, we have also been developing animated videos with narration that help our clients understand and visualize the intent.

Design is a symphony of images, experienced in time and space. The story narrative weaves image, context, culture, and history to deliver an enriched human experience.

Does this mean you literally write a storybook in some instances?

Daryl: Yes, it does. We have done this with varying levels of detail, from elaborate stories explaining the full range of the guest experience to more summarized statements about goals with appropriate messages.

What makes a story a good fit?

Daryl: With experience and lots of vetting, we can feel confident in matching the story to the project goals and objectives.

Entry to Tulsi historic site Haliongtun, China.

Audiences are interested in authenticity as well as experiences. Does this put more of the onus on designers to infuse that in the design?

Greg: The need for authentic elements can vary depending on the project. Creating an authentic sense of place for a bay front park experience is different from creating a themed attraction experience. Staying true to the storyline is important to the design process and the guest experience and the level of authenticity will vary with project types.

Are there any projects where storytelling was particularly important?

Greg: We did a project for a client in China who was developing a guest experience and tourist destination at the Great Wall of China in Badaling. Understanding the role this portion of the Great Wall played in China’s history was extremely important. The historical narrative that supports the experience was surprising to us and, we hear, to many Chinese visitors.

Storytelling can bring history or cherished characters to life. The possibilities are limitless.

  • Daryl LeBlanc

    Daryl, as a principal and senior design director, has renovated or created buildings projects for a number of high-profile clients including Walt Disney Imagineering and Universal Orlando.

    Contact Daryl
  • Greg Meyer

    With more than 35 years of experience in hospitality and resort design, planning, entertainment design, urban design, and landscape architecture, Greg brings a unique creative vision to every project.

    Contact Greg
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