For three years, I taught a class at California College of the Arts' BFA in Interaction Design program about the use of story in product design. For the first half of the semester, sophomores created a wide variety of stories as art in physical and digital media. For the second half of the semester, they would then create the same types of stories in the context of design problems. The challenges we used in the class and as homework were in the style of what you’d find in Creative Workshop, but focused on stories as the material output. As an example: Students would get comfortable making sequential art, then use the same tools to generate product scenario storyboards. They would create hypertext fiction with a series of random story prompts, then use the same medium and tools to help shape a design research readout.
In the process of creating the class, there were many story-based challenges that we couldn’t fit in. This was one of my favorites. Please do let me know if you try it, and are interested in sharing the output!
Sounds Like a Story
Time limit: 2 hours
Tools: Audio recorder, sound and/or video editing software
Go out into the world and quickly collect a set of non-verbal sounds with an audio recorder. In a sound or video editing program, arrange those sounds into a 60-second audio segment that you believe a listener will respond to as a story. Write out on a sheet of paper what you believe the story is trying to express. Find someone to listen to your audio segment, give them a separate sheet of paper, and ask them to write out what they think they’ve heard. See if the listener will write out a story as a result of listening to the audio segment, and if the details of their story resemble yours.
Take it further:
Instead of making your own recording, start your work with a recording from an online archive of royalty-free audio. Try to limit yourself to just one or two audio files, and work quickly—it's easy to get immersed in the editing process.
Need some inspiration to get you started? Check out the podcast The World According to Sound by Chris Hoff and Sam Harnett, where they create 90-second sound collages that will stretch your brain.
The above image is from Public Domain Pictures and available here.