Guest contribution by student Lucas Dewulf after the digital storytelling class by Lance Weiler, head of the Digital Storytelling Lab at School of the Arts of Columbia University.

Lance Weiler started out as a filmmaker but couldn’t be bound by one medium. Now he’s a digital storyteller and culture hacker.
He creates digital stories in every way he sees fit.
A robot doll that helps children take their education in their own hands.
A museum installation where you can enter the world of David Cronenberg and end up with a personalized biotech implant 3D printed only for you.
Or a prototype that lets you be the creator, discoverer and detective of a Sherlock Holmes themed murder scene.




                                           walkthrough in David Cronenberg’s Universe

Weiler’s project are as diverse as they are special. But his methods of working are always the same.

Step 1: define the problem
Almost every new storytelling adventure Lance tackles, starts with a ‘problem’ he wants to tackle.
How can I make a movie with little or no money?
In what new digital way can I let people create their own murder mystery without them knowing whodunit?
Is it possible to share fears, emotions and memories with a machine to get a story in return?


Step 2: really really define the project
Another thing every project needs: a definition of what it really is about.
Lance finds his solution by exercising the 5 times question game.
This exercise is meant to make you a better interviewer but also helps in the creative design process.

It goes like this: ask yourself (or someone) one question, five times in a row. Each time, you have to give a different answer.
At first this feels awkward.
But by asking the same question over and over again, you must dig deep inside yourself to capture what really is important.
Lance’s advice: in every step of your project, from idea to execution, ask yourself the hard questions 5 times in a row.

This way you have a better understanding of the whole idea you are trying to work on and end up with a more human centric outcome of your project.

Lyka tours Australia from Connected Sparks on Vimeo.

Step 3: stick to your principles while designing
Once Lance finds the core of his project, he gets together a team of diverse creatives to brainstorm and ideate in design jams. Lance gets together storytellers, coders, makers, sometimes doctors or even social workers.
Step by step, the project starts to come alive in different types of visualizations like storyboards, sketches and collages.
By rapidly prototyping and exploring the idea he gets a rough understanding how the project will look like.
Finally his idea takes form by defining all the details. How is it going to work? Who does what?

Weiler also has some core design principles that he utilizes to create engaging projects.

The Trace
When users are contributing to interactive projects, their decisions and contributions should be left visible in the rest of the project. According to Lance, you have to grant the user agency over the story and be able to see the impact they have on it.

Thematic Frame
He also believes that for a good interactive story the user must have a basic understanding of your story foundation. When you’re doing a story on murder mysteries and you are referring to Sherlock Holmes, people should definitely know who he is and what the Sherlock stories are about, before you build a project around it.

Social Movement / Serendipity Management
Lastly, Weiler thinks it’s important to have a serendipity like element in your project. If you overdesign a story there is no room for the viewer to fill it with his own imagination, something’s wrong. Always leave some room for questions.



Step 4: show your work
And now for the last step, show it to others. According to Weiler the best way to get feedback is by using “non judgmental feedback”. You let your audience ask questions but you are not allowed to answer any of them. And just take these questions and use them to improve your project.

Look for the human element
I want to end this with a bit of wisdom Weiler shared with us. When you have an idea, you need to look for the human element. If you can create a human connection your project will resonate with your audience.
So start small, look for human connection, then scale.

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