Story Is the Heart of Design
Telling visual stories is a key component in many fields of design. Stories are not only told with words, but with
images, objects, places, and visual
experiences as well.
Children’s book illustration is one
of the key storytelling arts and the
annual Caldecott Awards for illustration provide an excellent motivation
for students to explore telling stories with visual
they might be found in the wild. For
the first time in these exhibits, which
have become standard today, we could
see the adult male and female of a species, along with their young, engaged
in typical activities in their natural
They struggled to get people to look
directly at the colors, shapes, forms,
and textures in the works rather than
asking, “What is it about?”
Looking Beyond Stories
Interestingly, as the importance of
story grew in the design world, many
in the fine-art
world were taking
to remove story
from fine art.
tional and abstract
artists who gained
prominence in the
twentieth century tried to get people
to look at their work purely as paint-
ings and sculptures rather than repre-
sentations of external places or events.
Schools, like children’s
Ways of Telling
museums, can use images,
objects, places, and
experiences to visually
science, and social studies.
visual stories are
told through animation and movies. These fields employ specialists
in visual storytelling with job titles
like “story artist” and “storyboarder.”
Many animated films begin as a
visual story told in sketches rather
than a written script. The annual
Academy Awards include many honors for visual storytelling through
Objects and places can also tell
stories. The Disney Imagineers are
famous for designing theme park
exhibits in which every detail has
a back story. For each ride, show, or
attraction, a logical story sequence
is created. A bicycle leaning casually
against a building on Main Street is
certainly accompanied by a detailed
story that reveals why it is there, who
was riding it, and what we think that
person is doing now.
Zoos, aquariums, museums, and
theme parks use environments to tell
stories about the animals and artifacts
they display. By placing things in context we can more easily understand
and gain insights into their meanings.
In 1890, museum curator Carl Ackeley
created the first complete museum
diorama in which stuffed animals
were exhibited in the settings where
Schools and Storytelling
Schools can take better advantage
of the art of storytelling by making schools into three-dimensional
representations of the curriculum.
Schools, like children’s museums,
can use images, objects, places, and
experiences to visually communicate
history, science, and social studies.
Schools need to become environments
for learning in which the walls and
halls become part of the curriculum,
and the stories of our universe and
human development are presented in
visually compelling ways.
Martin Rayala teaches at Kutztown
University in Kutztown, Pennsylvania.