Takram's series for Core77 is an introduction to our global design innovation studio and the concept of Pendulum Thinking, which is the mental framework in which we deploy our creative methodologies; Prototyping, Storyweaving and Problem-Reframing.
While we may be introducing our methodologies in a linear series, it's worth mentioning that they are not linear in deployment or process but are, themselves, oscillating within the creative mindset of Pendulum Thinking, working in perpetual unison to relentlessly consider product, service, experience or vision in its wider context.
"By regarding our methodologies as a coherent group, we are able to base our approaches on a consistent ideology, in all levels of abstraction (prototype/concept/problem) within our projects." — Kotaro Watanabe, Managing Partner & Context Designer at Takram. Author of Storyweaving.
The second of our methodologies is "Storyweaving", which is a pendulum that swings between the concrete decisions of the project team and the more abstract requirements of engaging multiple perspectives into why a product, feature, or experience is valid and valuable. It prepares the stage for both conceptual prototyping and physical prototyping by allowing for the interplay between abstract and concrete aspects of a problem to stimulate further ideation and enhancements, or potentially redirecting the entire process based upon newly formulated narratives.
Floriography for ISSEY MIYAKE; a flower corsage made of the brand's special pleated textile that conveys personal messages and emotions.
Why storytelling matters in the design thinking process
While prototyping is fundamental for design presentations, user testing and validation, it lacks an essential ability to communicate the essential question of 'why' a particular product or service is necessary. In situations where we need to facilitate a tacit and unarticulated understanding within - and without - the project team to leverage further value from our work, we turn to the tradition of storytelling to provide necessary context about the concept or prototype without losing sight of our overall objective.
"A story supports the conceptual-side of a project, providing meaning and reason to its various constituents… A large organization is made up of people from different backgrounds, responsibilities, concerns and interests. Naturally, these people also hold different thoughts, motivations, and perspectives towards a project." — Kotaro Watanabe, Managing Partner & Context Designer at Takram. Author of Storyweaving.
Storyweaving is a process through which we continually refine the initial concept to achieve a better understanding. It arose following a number of occurrences where the interplay between abstract and concrete during prototyping enabled the project teams to identify new directions that challenged the typical notions of 'concept'; that of either being a manifesto, theme or idea that remains consistent throughout the project process, or post-rationalization after product creation to retrofit the final solution to a revised 'initial' concept.
Umbrellas of Rainbow: a concept from a series of workshops exploring Storyweaving: On a rainy day, the relationship among human beings is reclaimed and bridged as if by a brilliant rainbow
Both manifesto-driven and post-rationalizations unwittingly limit the ability to realize the full value of a project because preconceptions can result in a concept rapidly becoming the one and only 'answer'.
We started to recognize that the typical notion of 'concept' limited our potential or compromised the result, we began to speculate on improvements to the way 'concept' could be treated during the design process. We determined that, in order to arrive at a precise solution, we needed to consider the object or product in both its existing and future contexts
If the concept is finalized at the beginning of a project, it's rare that the final solution corresponds word-for-word with the original concept. In many cases, the final product often fails to deliver against the ideals detailed at the outset. In others, a product or prototype that might have more potential will be constrained by conforming to the limits of the initial concept framework.
On the other hand, when post-rationalizing a project, the unexpected consequences can be content that doesn't correspond with actual events, or functionality that isn't cohesive to the overall experience, while the lack of a clear direction that requires post-rationalization often suggests that any apparent irregularities will more than likely be matched by those not immediately evident.
As we started to recognize that the typical notion of 'concept' limited our potential or compromised the result, we began to speculate on improvements to the way 'concept' could be treated during the design process. We determined that, in order to arrive at a precise solution, we needed to consider the object or product in both its existing and future contexts by constructing the abstract side of product development alongside the tangible representation of product creation (prototyping).
This investigation resulted in 'Storyweaving', which is the metaphysical framework through which we subsume the notion of 'concept' to that of 'story'.
An introduction to "Storyweaving"
In large organizations with multiple stakeholders and different responsibilities, it's hardly surprising that perspectives rarely, if ever, result in a common ideological platform everyone can agree on, whereas story engenders reason and significance to various elements that might constitute a project.
Storyweaving oscillates in much the same way around the idea of concept; it is possible – imperative, even – to keep 'concept' malleable to allow for the project as a whole to be progressively improved through each iteration of story and prototype.
Through Storyweaving, the initial concept is treated purely as a springboard, which can be as little as a collection of words, phrases or prosaic one-line sentences that reflect the potential of the project but aren't necessarily enough to express the full scope of opportunities. The story originates from this springboard, and after subsequent modifications and iterations, materializes as a systemic and composed prose that extrapolates the ideological core of the project, product or object.
In Storyweaving, concept development happens simultaneously with product development
Analogous to the way representational prototyping makes possible the straightforward trial-and-error in design, Storyweaving as an abstract machination has similar significance in that it arises from the belief that an idea does not need to be perfect from the start. While prototyping serves to provide specifications for a real, working system and iterations subsequently refine, improve, polish and enrich its contents, Storyweaving oscillates in much the same way around the idea of concept; it is possible – imperative, even – to keep 'concept' malleable to allow for the project as a whole to be progressively improved through each iteration of story and prototype. In Storyweaving, concept development happens simultaneously with product developmentundefined
Story cannot exist on its own as the "conceptual" result of product development. It is only discovered through reciprocity and parallel maturation with the process of prototyping – making ideas tangible alongside developing a mutual understanding among all those involved in a project.
To put it differently, the story itself is gradually cultivated in parallel to the evolution of prototypes, with the will "to make" and "to narrate" mutually forming to complement and elevate one another during the product development process.
As a complement to prototyping, Storyweaving ensures that different members within different departments understand the purpose and ambitions of both prototype and overall project by addressing key questions, such as:
"How might we convey the values and ideas that lie behind the experiences delivered through a single product?"
"How can we tell if a product is consistent with the company's long-term management policy and philosophy?"
"What does this business represent and how does this product, service or experience fulfill that ambition?"
Home Shrine, a more spiritual and personal voice interaction proposed for the Swarovski Designers of the Future Award
Thus, the question is how this reciprocity is catalyzed within and without an organization. In order to weave a story, we conduct top-down (Executive), bottom-up (on-site workers and day-to-day management) and key figure (industry thought-leaders, but generally external to the organization) interviews to tap into the unspoken thoughts, ideas, knowledge that exist within and without the organization. These are central to the substance of the story we craft around the prototype. In addition to interviews, we conduct multiple ideation workshops with the interviewees, repeating the process of divergence, convergence and abstraction necessary to distill the essence of an idea. A story begins to be woven as we move the project forward by combining these ideation sessions, workshops and other creative stimulus.
Sony Life Space UX: Projecting Imagination - a small pop-up where we utilised Sony Life Space's compact projector to create an animated city of London
While prototyping and Storyweaving are intertwined in the development journey, the value of story extends beyond product to simplify the collaborative process with those engaged in creative tasks, such as planning, branding and marketing. Effective communication – of a brand, product or service – relies upon driving an emotional connection with the audience; Storyweaving extends the sales & marketing brief beyond features and benefits to develop a mutual understanding among all those involved in bringing a product, service, or vision to market.
Naturally, and as is typical of most creative processes, the concept of Storyweaving continues to be woven. From interweaving the concrete and the abstract elements within the project team and the confines of the organization, the propagating power of story has seeped into the consumer mindset. With the advent of the subscription economy, we are already witnessing the age where the sale of a product can no longer be considered the completion of the business cycle. Instead, consumers are in a position to influence the story, becoming co-authors that weave and edit the story for themselves.
M.C Escher's sketch "Drawing Hands" resembles the mutual reciprocity of making and craftsmanship (Monozukuri) with the act of storytelling (Monogatari). Conversely, the hand of narrating is drawing the hand of making, but this metaphorical image epitomizes Storyweaving in the act of creation.
Yosuke is a creative technologist based in London and Director at Takram, a design innovation firm based in Tokyo and London. His primary interests are centred around emerging technologies. He probes future visions that they promise, reveals the cultural and political mechanisms behind them, and illustrates insights through making various prototypes. By doing so, he aims to facilitate in-depth understanding of the implication of emerging technologies, and encourage better-informed decision-making on our future.