A couple of weeks ago I was at UX11, which was entirely excellent and everything I hoped it would be. Tim Train from Zynga was there and his words about the dynamics within a social game were particularly useful - instead of writing down notes that related to the games he was talking about, I was able to apply the information directly to notes about a game I am working on.
One thread that ran through all the talks, as it should, was the notion of 'story', in all its forms and scales. Find the story or stories and you're away, whatever you're doing.
But the best example of how to apply story telling to design, and how deeply you should apply story telling to design, came from Alex McDowell, who's a production designer. He's worked on a few odds and sods like Fight Club, Minority Report and Watchmen.
He talked about designing the house that featured in Fight Club, the one that Tyler lives in. Yeah, it's a house that's a bit dilapidated in an industrial wasteland. True, but the story goes much further back than that. Alex told a story like the following, but better...
The house was originally built by a wealthy family, so it's a respectable size. Also, there would have been servants, so each room has two entrances. This is important for a significant part of the greater story of the film (he says, skirting around the issue of plot spoilers, just in case). Over time the family's fortune dwindled and the land around the house was occupied by industry. Then the house was sub divided, meaning that a second staircase was put in, again useful for the flow of characters in the house and causing a significant schism in the decor. The industry died away, leading to the wasteland and useful privacy. Squatters moved in and lit a fire, causing some damage. Finally, Tyler comes across the place and moves in to cause some serious bedlam.
The lesson I learned - I need to do a lot, lot more thinking about the back story of everything.