Designing Stories with Viraj Joshi
This week, Dikore reached out to Viraj Joshi to share his thoughts on storytelling in design. Joshi is an industrial designer, violinist, and comic book enthusiast, who has received the 2015 Best Student Award by MIT Institute of Design and has been featured on publications such as Yanko Design, Young Eleven, and Creative Gaga. In this in-depth interview, we invited Joshi to share his insights on design narratives and and their place in the home.
How do you define storytelling?
Space and time fascinate everyone. We realise our place in the universe when we talk about the grandeur of it. We see eons as if they were seconds, lightyears as millimeters. We understand how trifle our lives are and we define our own purposes of our lives to lead them. What will last after your time is done, after you fade away?
The answer, I believe, are stories.
They are our experiences of space and time. Our versions of it. In its simplest way, we tell stories after we come from a trip, or a hike. We tell stories when we meet new people, and when we meet our old acquaintances. But essentially, stories are remnants of experiences. Writers use words, musicians use music, and artists use art to talk about their experiences. As someone who has been drawing since he was a child, it naturally comes to me to express myself through visuals. An amazing aspect of visuals is that you are bound by your art medium, and your recreation of your experience depends highly on the limits of the medium, and your ability to use and surpass them. So every story you tell has a bit of yourself in it. It is always your version of it from the way you express it.
How do you apply stories to your design, and what impact do you believe they have on people’s lives?
As an industrial designer, I believe it’s our job to not only make objects and spaces, but to impart experiences too. Think about it... Have you ever sat on an Eames lounge chair? How do you tell the tale of the experience? Remember your first flight? How did you describe that experience to those around you?
The design of objects, I believe, has to essentially be the design of experiences around that object, and an analysis of how people would interact with them. What story would they tell if they use your object? If the experience you designed is that impactful, there is a great chance your stories will spread far and wide, not only in spatial extent, but also in the years to come. Apple is a great example of that (and somehow it makes its way to a lot of design articles, because it is just that good.)
Good stories have such a mass appeal! They can cross barriers of time and space. You must’ve seen the Lion King. Watch it a hundred years from now, and it’ll still be relevant and people then will still love it. It is so timeless! Design is for people, so if you plan to stir up certain emotions through your design, and follow the design process smartly, it isn’t as difficult to achieve as one might think. If you see the kind of work that is being done for the Lexus Design Awards every year, you’ll get an idea of what I mean. They give topics like “Curiosity”, or “Anticipation”, and ask people from around the planet to come up with objects that would trigger that feeling - and man, have they come up with some amazing stuff or what?!
Do you believe design storytelling can relate to the stories music can create and why (or why not)?
The experience that you get after listening to a very well composed album, in my head, isn’t very different from what you get after seeing a good movie, or reading a book. They all give rise to excitement, curiosity, sadness, joy, and any other feelings. You can tell stories about them! As designers we should try to achieve this level of experience through our products where possible, unless the products demand otherwise. This approach can work brilliantly in lifestyle products and lighting, don’t you think?
Having said that, I am of the opinion that there is a big divide between storytelling through art forms such as music, art, sculpture, and storytelling through design. Making a canvas painting based on a song may be fairly direct, as one has to achieve the aesthetic of the song through visual elements (like colour, form and space, texture etc.) only. As we know, design, by definition has to serve a function and has to be commercially viable, whereas art may just be an expression.
While ideating to come up with a design output that provokes a certain feeling or gives a certain experience, one has to be very careful that it doesn’t end up being an art piece. This is exactly where the design process comes into play. If you follow it thoroughly, the chances of going wrong are minimized. The output that comes out through such a methodical process has great chances of having an extraordinary impact!
How do you believe storytelling can be applied to products like furniture and home accessories? What potential do static/decorative/storage home goods have to tell a story?
Stories and experiences are intangible, and the only strong way to come up with relevant tangible objects from them is by using a form of the design process. The importance of a design process cannot be asserted enough. It helps all the wild catapults of your ideas funnel through to reach your aim, unless you want the output to be very literal.
Decorative objects, especially, have great likeliness to tell stories because their function is having a good form, and thus telling a story. Another approach is to break it down into its consisting elements and then associate each one with relevant ideas. Can you make a lighting fixture inspired from your trip to China? You’ll first end up making a board of visual elements from China - colours, textures, motifs, etc., and try to use them in your lighting fixture. Now, your material and manufacturing process will allow for some things to happen very well, and might not let you achieve some other aesthetic qualities you wanted to achieve. Through all that, the output will be a highly synthesised version of your experience in China. Apply the same logic, and you can talk about medieval ages through chairs, about the future through our chandeliers, and the possibilities are infinite!
A point I am compelled to bring up here, is using literal derivatives to tell stories. As designers, we have to be very sensitive in using our influences and stories into making products. If you see Alessi’s Kastor Sharpener, it is genius, since we all know beavers can use their teeth to eat into wood. That product makes for a brilliant story, doesn’t it? But, let me give you an example of a similar approach gone wrong. In India they have penguin shaped trash cans in children’s parks where you can throw the trash in the mouths of the penguins. I honestly find it disturbing and wrong on more levels than one. It is evident that not much thought had gone into making them.
When we tell stories, we describe time and space that we have experienced. And we, as creators, have that potential to impart experiences and to tell the most amazing tales.
For even more from Viraj Joshi, enjoy his TEDx Talk on Structured Serenity below.
Viraj Joshi is a 23 year old Industrial Designer who graduated from MITID, India in April 2015. He's a storyteller at heart who believes that people live for good stories to tell and that all of us are secretly inventors. He is one half of Quip Studio, an industrial design initiative that designs original products and also functions as a consultant innovation and design agency.
When he isn't sketching or chasing deadlines (or sometimes while he's chasing deadlines), you can see i playing i violin, going cycling or reading a graphic novel.