Whispers The storytelling process we design on the page or screen should, as much as possible, imitate how we communicate the same stories orally. This is an effective way to introduce contrast and surprises. In normal conversation, there is seldom only one aspect of the story taking place; instead, stories run parallel to each other. We start talking to a friend about a movie we have seen but soon take detours (sometimes better than the original story.) Likewise, in design, we must present visual detours. Traditionally called “sidebars”, they are more than just that. If we use the conversation metaphor, these detours are “whispers”. Say you are at a busy cocktail part and a speech is being presented. You “whisper” your sidebar to the person standing next to you. You add to the story. You bring in background information. You remind whomever you are talking to of an event in the past that ties in to the speech of the moment. When placed on the page, whispers are second readings, normally short (no more than five to six paragraphs), and carry their own headline, since many times they are read first. Reporters and writers who understand the importance of storytelling should suggest whispers in their stories from the start; in cases when this does not happen, it is up to the designer to seek them out, to discuss possibilities with the writers and editors, and to present them. As runners have known all along, sometimes the detour one takes from the usual route can provide the ultimate surprise. 20
Secondary, but relevant: Use â€œsidebarâ€? items to offer a glimpse into an interesting aspect of a story, to enhance biographical or other encyclopedic information, or to pull away from the narrative with a single element of the story that nobody should miss. This prototype page for the new design of Liberation (Paris) shows an interesting approach to a secondary read that stands out, aided by ample white space on the left.
Published on Jul 14, 2009