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

July 16, 2018

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


By Daryl LeBlanc, Greg Meyer, and Veronica Zurita

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, Greg Meyer and Veronica Zurita) 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?

Veronica: Like music and art, stories allow us to relate to something on a deeper level. We look at design as a form of storytelling because of how spaces can deeply affect and influence us.

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.


_q_tweetable: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._q_

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.

Veronica: For a luxury resort in the Middle East we wrote a story of a grand adventurer from Great Britain that had traveled the world, and the design of the resort reflected his heritage, travels, and even interests and hobbies.

The fine dining venue in the resort was located in a beautiful conservatory because this adventurer loved collecting plants from his travels. Stories create an immersive and rich experience for visitors.


So how is the story constructed? Where do the themes and messages come from?

Veronica: The most important story is about our client. Who are they, what is important to them, how do they want people to feel? In themed entertainment, the stories come from beloved books and movies. In workplace, the story could draw on the founding of the company.


Who has input?

Veronica: Listening is key to designing through stories. The more you know about the audience or users, the more meaningful the experiences can be. As designers and creative thinkers, we’re natural collaborators. We can influence the direction of the narrative, but the process always starts with listening.


What makes a story a good fit?

Veronica: If a story resonates with our client and users, then it’s a good fit and can be built on.

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.


Why is storytelling important in the Orlando market?

Veronica: Orlando is the capital of the themed entertainment world. Storytelling is probably more literal here than in other destinations. We are extending stories from the page to real life, making connections to our favorite book and movie characters and creating memories that last a lifetime.


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.


About the authors

Daryl LeBlanc is a principal and senior design director for our Themed Entertainment and hospitality groups. Daryl understands the complexity and dynamics of creating inspiring destinations with unique designs that support an operator’s return on investment. His design experience includes creating new and renovating old hotels, resorts, casinos, restaurants, retails, and various destination attractions. 

Greg Meyer has 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 and has worked throughout the US, the Caribbean, Asia, Canada, United Arab Emirates, and South America.

Veronica Zurita is a senior interior designer with experience working on many hospitality projects. Much of her recent experience is focused on design development, space planning, material selection, and construction documentation. The majority of her work experience has consisted of luxury hospitality projects.

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