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Tell Better Stories by Keeping a Diary
We all know that storytelling is a powerful tool to connect with an audience – but how are great stories created? I’ve found keeping diaries to be really helpful when trying to tell a story — about a trip, a piece of design, or even a company.
Road Trip Diaries
The first time I realized that diaries could be used to inspire design projects and tell stories was on a summer road trip in 2010. While driving around the U.S. with a friend in a Plymouth Voyager, I kept a diary where I wrote down little notes every day, took heaps of photos, and used a Flip camera to record video. After the trip ended, I realized that between the diary and all the photos and footage, I had collected a huge amount of content that I could turn into cool stuff. Below are some of the magazine layouts and illustrations made from that trip.
After that summer road trip, I returned to my university in Connecticut inspired to do more with diaries. Soccer pre-season had just started and I began documenting everything that went on around my team. I was an assistant coach that year so I could get away with shooting film at practice for long periods of time. I dedicated my senior project to making a media guide called “Make Your Mark”, giving fans an intimate view into the minds of our team and coaching staff. For instance, each player’s profile included a handwritten note that individual’s personal mission for the season.
I also put together film highlights from the games and posted them to our social channels. I realized that though the highlights were popular, the videos that showed “behind the scenes” bits from trips, practice, and locker room banter generated a lot more interest from our audience. People were much more interested in getting close to the team and players than just watching us score goals.
Designers are all about process. A project starts with a brief and goes through various stages of research, interviews, sketches, wireframes, prototypes, visual design, and development. The process is there to help you understand the problem you’re solving, explore potential solutions, rule out bad ideas, and iterate on concepts.
At Percolate, our product designers keep research diaries to document their process in a way that can be shared with a broader group. They include photographs, whiteboard sketches, wireframes, as well as quotes from client interviews and they’re written in an informal tone that is accessible to everyone at the company.
A nice example is this entry by Nitzan Hermon, a graphic designer we partnered with in developing the brand identity for our Transition conference. Not a lot of companies have their designers do this kind of documentation and I think it’s so great that we do.
Stefan Sagmeister, an Austrian born graphic designer who set up shop in NYC in 1994, has explored the role of diaries in his life and work extensively. He keeps a personal diary to “reflect on what went well and not so well” and a business diary to stay focused on his main goal for his company; “keep the studio small”.
Sagmeister’s books “Made You Look” and “Things I have learned in my life so far” illustrate how his diaries both serve as inspiration for his work and help his professional and personal development. “Things I have learned in my life so far” is a collection of designs based on a list with the same title that he found in his diary while looking for content for a set of spreads he was commissioned to design for .copy magazine. The list included insights such as “Worrying solves nothing”, “Obsessions make my life worse and my work better”, and “Trying to look good limits my life”.
As Percolate has grown, we’ve been keen to share what it’s like to build a technology company, so a few months ago we launched our first quarterly report. The report emerged out of the photo diaries kept by the communications designers along with on-going documentation of key milestones, events, content, and hires at the company. I learned a lot from designing the first report and think it’s just another great example of storytelling through diaries.
Tips On Keeping a Diary
We will get more into how we keep diaries at Percolate in another blog post, but for now I will leave you with a few tips I find helpful when it comes to diary keeping.
- Be honest — it’s harder than it sounds and takes practice, but it’s what makes a diary valuable in the first place
- Write the way you talk — It’s easier to be straightforward and on point when you use your own voice.
- Keep it on hand — whatever form your diary takes is fine as long as its easily accessible. I use a combination of a small paper diary and an app called DayOne that has a great user experience both on desktop and mobile.
- Capture everything — try to save all your photos, ideas, and don’t worry about if it’s good at first. You can always edit later.
- Make the diary a part of your routine — With your morning coffee, before going to sleep, during the magic photo hour, or on the train to work, whatever works for you.