Politecnico di Milano, Department of Design (ITALY)
About this paper:
Appears in: EDULEARN19 Proceedings
Publication year: 2019
Pages: 6844-6853
ISBN: 978-84-09-12031-4
ISSN: 2340-1117
doi: 10.21125/edulearn.2019.1643
Conference name: 11th International Conference on Education and New Learning Technologies
Dates: 1-3 July, 2019
Location: Palma, Spain
Narratives constitute a complex subject of research and experimentation, rooted in different epistemologies. Their potential and extended fields of application make them a regular object of investigation in many areas, as well as an important element within the contemporary design curriculum in the communication domain. Acknowledging their paramount role in communication and its design, as well as the fact that narratives move through different media (Ryan and Thon 2014), we present and discuss a design method for conceiving interactive storytelling projects based on character-driven stories.

Since 2016, we challenged the MSc design studio “Complex Artefacts and System Design Studio”, a class with communication and interaction design students which are not used to deal with interactive narrative or transmedia logics, to design stories embedded in communicative projects able to convey set of social values. In particular, considering the role of the media implies to deepen the reasoning about features and implications that come from the media themselves, as to affordances, potentialities and limitations. That said, we asked designers to conceive and develop each project as a transmedia system, where several elements coexist and interact.

We structured this study as a design-through research where hands-on activities led and prompted students to experience the various degree of agency toward the story that different media allow. Relying on the knowledge from narrative theory, cultural, media and game studies, we pushed students to explore some boundaries, considering and taking advantage of the possibilities and affordances of analog and digital media, also hybridized.

Through this study, we enquired the benefits and implications of initiating this design activity from a different starting point each year:
1) archetypal characters,
2) thick and compelling storyworlds,
3) real testimonies shaped as short stories and fragments of memories,
4) semi-biographical short fictional stories.

The peculiar traits of narratives make them pop up as a compelling contemporary field for design research and practices, where design knowledge is informed in multiple ways: from conceptualizing and designing complex system and design interactive narratives for new media (e.g. interactive television/cinema, games and media art/exhibitions), to posing the questions about the viewer/user/player’s participation (Dena 2012), to addressing design issues.

To understand the effectiveness of the different methods in triggering learning and feeding knowledge, as well as to explore their potential in terms of design education, we observed the design(er)’s storytelling and world-making experiences conducting each time a four-months ethnography and a participant observation (moderate participation) (DeWalt and DeWalt 2010).

We discuss on how students addressed the specific properties of interactive narratives in the levels of: Story, storyworld, character and interactive system logic:
(a) theme, structure and character/agent/player/user relationships;
(b) Language/media: participatory expression from text to moving image and distributed or situated (in space) narratives;
(c) Rhetorics of expression: style/genre and production values, ethics of aesthetics.

In so doing, we make reference to the different tools and processes employed, and the reason why behind their evolution through time.
Then, we conclude with a critical analysis on the results obtained.
Interactive narrative, storytelling system, transmedia design, design practice, design curriculum, design framework.