For this blog post, our intrepid junior design researcher Sean, wrote a little something about his experience with storytelling at Diagram. Enjoy...

Storytelling For Impact

In March, I joined Diagram as an intern. I came to this small, healthcare-centered, design research studio wanting to find some way to intersect my background in academic research with healthcare product development. Though armed with a background in scientific research and writing, I knew coming in I’d be entering foreign territory. My vision was to convert my science-oriented knowledge into marketable products. What I found was that in order to build better healthcare solutions, I needed to uncover the root of the problem, starting with the patient first. I quickly learned that communicating the needs, challenges, and desires of patients in order to better develop products and services for them, meant carefully crafted storytelling, a staple for the work we do here at Diagram.

In my previous life of research, information is published in peer-reviewed journal articles in a way that is easy to retrieve and can be readily duplicated. Collected data is presented in a standard format that has developed over the past three centuries: Title, Abstract, Introduction, Methods/Materials, Results, Discussion. I was encouraged to present all the pieces of information so that readers with similar knowledge could make a decision for themselves based on the hypothesis, backed up by the phenomena observed. I could let the data speak for itself.

When I think of narratives and stories, noir films come to mind. I enjoy these movies for their complex and intricate plots without being complicated—a single thread that I can latch on to. I think of Chinatown, L.A. Confidential, Who Framed Roger Rabbit. I think of the line, “Just find the girl, Mr. Gittes.” I think of Rollo Tomasi and saving Toontown from Christopher Lloyd.

At Diagram, I’ve learned it’s essential to communicate a narrative through the eyes of a patient so that others can understand the “why” and “how.” I realized I could apply the narrative elements that I’ve always loved to communicate the challenges that patients face every day. Finding a memorable quote, painting a real portrait of a person, uncovering conflict, and revealing idiosyncrasies are some of the hooks that pull a story together. Using these elements helps me to communicate patient stories in a way to build empathy and ensure that the design of future products and services addresses how people feel, think, their values, motivations and what challenges them. 

There is a myriad of ways that clever storytelling highlights different information. Instead of simply dumping data onto the audience to figure out, good storytelling requires me to synthesize the data and information, think about the message I want to convey (what the patient story really is), and consider the narrative sequence to highlight the components that will make the story memorable and actionable.

Being grounded in data has always pointed me in the right direction. But now, incorporating narratives into my work allows me to translate information in a way that guides and inspires others to design better products and services. I find myself getting drawn more towards this ability of creating a bigger impact and change. I have come to realize that storytelling is a better way for me to communicate ideas and keep a unique perspective that supports and defends the patient experience.