Listen to Your Chair: Design and the Art of Storytelling
Whether in a traditional Berber market or in the world of design—storytelling follows the same basic rules. It is an interactive process following an impermanent script that is constantly rewritten. As the narrative evolves, the storyteller and the listeners change roles, adding different voices and layers to the story, weaving in feedback, and refocusing. Whether the story is actually true, whether it really happened, doesn’t matter. Storytelling follows the laws of fiction—it is sincere only about being imaginary.
What matters instead of truth is the coherence of a story—how persuasively it is told. The tools that help critics, curators, and amateurs assess whether a story is coherent or not are simple. They are the same basic questions that all tales rest upon. Do we find a stunning plot, for example? A compelling character to identify with? Convincing dialogues? What is the tone of the story and does it suit the general theme? Does the setting fit the rest of the narrative and from what point of view do we actually hear the story? The answers to these and other similar questions will tell us everything about the quality of a narrative—and of the object itself. An incoherent narrative will ultimately reflect an incoherent design. Ettore Sottsass’s Valentine typewriter, for instance, is a design classic, but was a commercial failure at the time it was launched. Listen to the typewriter and you will know why.