What's the Story, Morning Glory?

Ok, back to talking about design.  I see so many cool illustrations in people's portfolios.  There are beautiful pictures of robots, and knights, and ruined cities...but when I ask "What's the story?", the artist has no idea.

I don't think you can design without a story.

If you're making pretty pictures with no idea why, other than composition or style, you put things into your painting, you are not designing.  You might well be *inspiring* but you are not designing.

Designing solves problems.  Problems require an action verb - You have no problems if everything exists in stasis.  Action verbs create stories.  From the most complex movie plot, to the most simple video game, there is a story.  Pac-man has a story.  Minesweeper has a story.  Industrial design has a story - You create a chair to solve the story problem of "Someone needed to sit here."

"But Seth", you ask, "What about pure worldbuilding?  You don't know the story in that case, how can you design?"  

Oh, but you do:  For worldbuilding, the story is, "Someone is going to come along and need a world where interesting stories can be told.  They are going to be looking for fantasy/sci-fi/post-apocalypse/horror hooks to bring them into the world and make it feel real."  Additionally, you're going to design differently for a tabletop RPG than you would for an immersive video game.

You can't design a good, unique character unless you have some idea where they come from, and where they could go.  All the pouches in the world won't make your assassin memorable unless you can tie them to the world and the story.

Some people think in "constraints" and "requirements" when they design, but to me, those are just a different way to parse "story."  You are trying to create something that interacts in the proper manner with a narrative - and narratives contain constraints and there will be requirements as to how that interaction proceeds.

The  important thing to remember is that the story started before your design, and it will continue after.  Your work represents one supporting part of a greater whole.  If you don't talk about the greater whole, I can't evaluate your design for anything other than pure aesthetics.  Just like skin can be almost any colour depending on the lighting of the environment, almost any drawing *can* work as a good design depending on the greater whole.

Additionally, without a story, I can almost assure you that your image is going to be more generic than it would be if you had a narrative to work from.  Stories are what give designs life to be unique, without them, all you get is ye-olde <xxx>.  It may be incredibly pretty, but there has to be development in your visual development.

Hey, thanks for reading!  Go forth and design for stories!