Some of the best designers are also some of the best storytellers. I don’t think this is a coincidence.
This is because good designers think about design in terms of stories — frame by frame narratives that illustrate a user’s journey through a product.
One of the things that taught me how to be a better story teller — and inadvertently a more empathetic designer — is photography. This is because photography helps frame your mind. It makes you think about interactions in terms of characters, settings, and outcomes, key components in product narratives.
This past year, I challenged myself to experiment with photography. I learned that photography refines mechanical skills, like your ability to compose images and create balance. It also teaches you how to use imagery as a way of capturing and conveying stories and experiences.
Here are some photographs and stories that I’ve collected. Hopefully, they encourage you to look at other mediums outside of design to develop your unique style and perspective as a designer.
New city, new job, new life
This photo was taken in New York. I was wandering around Midtown and happened on a park squished between two office buildings. I loved the lighting so I decided to stop and take some photos.
At the time, I wanted to focus on people as my subjects. This is because photographing people is hard. You have capture their emotions and character while reconciling that with your own artistic vision.
I looked around for a candidate and noticed a person sitting on a bench in the park. I went up to her and asked her if it was okay to include her a photo. This part is always nerve wracking. Some people yes, a lot of people say no. In her case, she was completely fine with it.
And I’m glad I asked. I can’t remember her name but her back story always stuck with me.
Up until a few weeks ago, her and her husband had been working full-time in London. But her husband had recently found a new job in New York. So they decided to move. This meant that they had to uproot their lives and move to a completely new city.
As it turns out, the moment captured in the photo was right after her very first job interview. New city, new job, new life.
On a roof in a city
This photo was taken at night at Top of The Rock. It’s an observation deck that offers a breathtaking view of New York. The story behind this photo has to do with the person I met in the process of getting this photo.
It was around golden hour, the last hour of sunlight in a day. I was taking photos of the skyline when someone tapped my shoulder. It was a girl. She saw my camera, and she wanted me to take a photo of her with the city in the background.
I asked her if the photo was for anything specific. Apparently, every year around Christmas, she would send out a Christmas card. The cover was always a picture of her holding a sign that said “Merry Christmas.”
What caught my attention was how much she loved to travel. Every year, the picture was in a different country. In order to keep traveling, she had decided to become a flight attendant for Lufthansa, the German airline.
That was her very last night in New York. The next day, she was on a plane to Germany to start her training.
From iron age forts to bandits
When I was in New York, I stayed at the home of two long-time friends of my dad, a husband and wife.
Mark, the husband, is one of the most interesting people I’ve ever met. In his youth, hitchhiking was his passion. Early on, he spent his days hitchhiking across the U.S, as far south as New Orleans, and as far north as Alaska.
Between 1978 and 1980, Mark hitchhiked around the world. His experiences shaped his personality, from discovering iron age forts in archeological forays in Scotland to being held up by bandits in the Iranian desert with an entire camp of refugees.
This photo is a reminder of Mark and his stories.
Kindness in the subway
This picture was taken on my last day in the subway. I was on my way to the airport when I encountered a trumpet player in the subway.
There was a homeless person laying down across from the trumpet player. After playing a set, the trumpet player took a break and bought out a saran- wrapped sandwich from his bag.
Instead of taking a bite into it the sandwich, the trumpet player split it in half. He offered one half to the man lying on the other side of the hall, and bit into the other half.
This exchange felt so genuine. There were no strings attached. After donating a small amount to both gentlemen, I asked the trumpet player if I could take a photo of him.
Now, every time I look at this photo, it reminds me of this story.
What stories do you have? What are some favorite photographs that remind you of them? Leave me a note here or tweet them to me on Twitter.
You can find me on Medium where I publish every week. Or you can follow me on Twitter, where I post non-sensical ramblings about design, front-end development, and virtual reality.
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