Five Unconventional Storytelling Tips You Missed at DC Design Week

by Audra Kruse

What better place to explore the unconventional than being suspended in a pixelated fractal of space and time itself?

More than 100 DCDWers sat enveloped in the dazzling display of DC’s ARTECHOUSE. Design keynotes shared their best non-traditional storytelling insights among wall-to-wall projections of swirling orange nebulas and sparkling stars captured by the James Webb Space Telescope. 

Attendees were invited to challenge their experiences and collect actionable tips for bringing new narratives to life. Joining them to help were headliners Riki Kim, executive creative director at ARTECHOUSE, J’nay Penn, art director at Creative Theory Agency, and moderator Elite Truong, vice president of product strategy at the American Press Institute.

Didn’t snag a ticket? Don’t worry, catch up now at lightspeed with a list of their top takeaways.

Let go of control and find your throughline.

Storytelling isn’t something you can entirely control, Kim told attendees. Just like a walk through the rooms at ARTECHOUSE, every experience is unique to the person, the character, as they take in their space. 

“We don’t have a single display, we can’t control what you’re looking at or how you walk around,” she stressed. She shared with attendees the complexity of working for months with NASA experts, quantum physicists, telescope pros, and more, and how they needed to find a guiding through line to their narrative. The answer? According to Kim, “the overarching story is: how do we interact with light, how do we control it, and what our relationship to it is.” 

People aren’t unconventional. Your multi-dimensional approach to their story must be.

Ears from audience members perked up when Penn leveled with the crowd: “Ultimately most minorities and people in general don’t think they’re unconventional, they’re just who they are and I think that we should all be working to humanize them… and build the design visuals to carry that through.”  

Penn gave the crowd more insights, specifically through her work on a communications campaign designed to communicate what it’s like for Black employees at Google — and that relating to the audience was of paramount importance — more than explaining every piece to every executive. 

“I like that,” Truong added, and shared a healthy reaction she received on an AI voice project from her time at the Washington Post: “‘You know what? I recognize this isn’t for me. I don’t understand everything you’ve made, but I really think this is important.” 

Tell everyone’s story.

That’s how you get a robust narrative. Penn shared a borrowed quote from a favorite author to drive the point home: “Your villains don’t know they aren’t the main character.”

Creativity is a skill.

“Curiosity is cliche but true. But having the self discipline to find creativity in the boring things is necessary,” Kim stressed. 

Penn also told listeners, “Don’t self edit your first round creativity.” You can’t avoid feedback, that’s going to come whether you prepare for it or not, she warned. Don’t artificially constrain yourself by imagined feedback — love the idea and the collaboration and creative editing process will always follow. 

One final piece of advice from Penn that drew laughs from the audience? 

“Don’t let legal get you down.”

Miss out on DCDW23? Every year, DC Design Week draws hundreds of design professionals for a week of networking, inspiring events, and major takeaways to boost their personal and professional skills. Check out more from this year’s offerings by searching the #DCDesignWeek hashtag on social media.

Published November 18, 2023