Design TED Conferences

Finding ways to let the story tell itself: Jacky Myint at TED2013

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Photo: James duncan Davidson

Photo: James duncan Davidson

Recently, the New York Times released Snow Fall, an extraordinary interactive experience that was heralded by many as a milestone in interactive narrative. The experience was enhanced by extra media, as had many projects before. But unlike previous projects the blending was seamless and the whole experience felt completely natural. TED invited the designer, Jacky Myint, to talk about her process.

Myint never considered herself a storyteller, she avoided people’s attention. But that is exactly what she wants for her designs. “I want the user’s full attention. I want their focus in time… I want them to have a moment of wonder. I like to think of stories as living organisms jostling for people’s attention. As a designer I ask myself how do I help this story tell itself?”

A first example: How do you tell a story where the narrative was in the numbers? For a piece on how falling vaccine numbers were causing a resurgence in diseases, “Data was the star.” So they created an interactive map, with layers of discovery for the user to explore and connect with.

She works now at the New York Times interactive desk. The challenge there is to be different when working with words. Not to replicate what’s being told with articles, but finding a new way to tell stories. For a story about a vocal producer, they wanted to give a sense of what that person does. So they took a cue from games, allowing an user to select what mixes they think are the best.

Which brings us to Snow Fall, the tragic story of a group of 16 skiers who died in an avalanche. The challenge was to find a way to weave together video, diagrams, audio and code in a way that felt natural yet surprising. Says Myint, “We chose which elements told the story at the right moment in the text, so that each media was doing what it’s best at.”

It was a project that required extensive iteration, making sure that each element was natural, added to the experience, and didn’t take away from the narrative. A key point that came across is just how much time and effort went into the development.

More on how Myint and her collaborators made Snow Fall >>

Closing, Myint reflects, “Our job as interactive storytellers is to find the right form that best serves the story.”