PHD Graduate Silvia Grimaldi on Design For Narrative Experience in Product Interactions

Congratulations to Silvia Grimaldi on gaining her PHD in Narrative Environments for her work on Design for Narrative Experience in Product Interactions.

Her research investigates the potential of narrative in product design to enhance sustainability. Engaging people emotionally with an object, for example through having that object prompt a story that the user is part of, helps people create an emotional and meaningful connection with the mundane  product.

Objects that feature in the stories that people tell about themselves and their lives are less likely to be thoughtlessly replaced or disposed of, and more likely to be cared for, and mended when broken.

Based on research, Silvia created a Narratives in Design Toolkit, that helps designers analyse the narratives in designed objects,  envision how their designs will be interpreted, what types of stories might be retold about these objects and our interactions with them, and how meaningful, interesting or entertaining these stories might be.

Stories built into an experience of an object can also encourage people to reflect more on the object they are using, to notice different aspects of it or to reflect on their relationship with the object, or their relationship with society through the object. This is a strategy that is used in critical and speculative design, and the resulting objects are usually intended to be experienced in museums. Building stories into the use of everyday objects could be a way to bring this reflection out of the museum and into everyday life.

To test these ideas with real products, Silvia researched the steps of use of a kettle through design ethnographies, and mapped these out, including particular quirks of use, such as inspecting for limescale. She then crowdsourced examples of films in which kettles appeared in a significant role. Out of these examples, she picked four films, each in a different genre. She then analysed the kettle scenes to understand the role of the kettle, as well as its symbolic meanings to inform the design briefs.

Combining the steps of use of the kettle with the roles and meanings and visual identity coming from the films, Silvia created four kettle prototypes, each associated to one of the films. The kettle sequences can be viewed in the links below:

Kettle 1: “>The Secretary

Kettle 2: “>Tale of Two Sisters

Kettle 3: “>Wristcutters: A Love Story

Kettle 4: “>Vera Drake

To read about Silvia’s PHD in more detail, head over to this article on Medium.