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Book Review: A Must Read for Designers

Updated: Nov 8, 2019

A book review of, The Art of Immersion:

How the Digital Generation is Remaking Hollywood, Madison Avenue, and the Way We Tell Stories

by Frank Rose.


As a designer in the contemporary world of saturated media, how do you compete? How can you stand out? Will your voice or brand be heard? Can you connect with your audience in a way that is lasting and meaningful? You might not typically think to read this book, but it is on my recommended list because it takes a different perspective on design which is highly relevant to answering these questions.

I have come to realize, stories are more integral to design than we are taught. To design a powerful, visual story that resonates with your audience, you must understand what your audience loves, and emotionally connects to first. This book deconstructs why they work, how visual stories work, and the similarities and differences across media and platforms. The science and professional experience within these pages is a must read for any designer wishing to engage in a resonating and long-lasting relationship with their audience.

The invention of cinema, more or less coincided with the arrival of cubism, which sought to show every facet of an object at once, abandoning the illusion of perspective in favor of instant sensory awareness of the whole. Which is similar to how we consume media today.

The emergence of multi-media began in Japan in 1979 with the animated TV series, Mobile Suit Gundam. In the 1980's, Japan saw the birth of the geeky, nerdy, media and internet obsessed generation. They were called otaku, which was first used as a derogatory term. In a short amount of time, they became an influential sub-culture.

Manga publishers realized early on, when stories and characters actually gain value is when people shared them, which is why they turn a blind eye to fan-fiction and fan-products. The otaku generation still influences design and entertainment media today.

It is interesting that in America and Europe we do not support fan-fiction in that way. In fact, when young Harry Potter fans in the USA and EU created fan webpages Warner Brothers quickly put the kibosh on the whole thing, instigating the Potter Wars.

People want to wallow in a brand they love, as is evidenced by Dr. Who and Star Wars fans. So, how can you design something people connect with, and want?

The most dependable way to forge a connection is by relating information – a process that often involves a story. And storytelling is a simple act of sharing. Cliff Bleszinski, former Director at Epic Games, figured out that if you can get someone to wonder what happens next in a narrative, that’s very, very powerful. Hideo Kojima, designer of the Metal Gear franchise, said he tries to engage the audience not just in a sensory experience, but in an emotional one. Peter Molyneux, a video game designer tries to make you care about something with his designs, because the story will be so much more meaningful. Understanding emotion turns out to be one of the real keys to creating truly intelligent characters and engaging stories.

Cognitive researchers found that audiences greet marketing and design messages with an emotional response, and they imbue those messages with meaning, usually in an unconscious way. This means perceptions of a brand aren't just created by marketers and designers, they are co-created by marketers and consumers together. Today brands want to hear what we are saying, and they look to us to define their identity, like Coca-Cola. They infuse themselves into our lives through cultural and media channels we encounter every day.

The question becomes, do people really want designers to give them authentic stories? We are media saturated, bombarded with technology that is making authenticity suspect. But It turns out humans don't need stories to be true to life. While people want honest messages, they still turn to entertainment for escapism. Humans want to get away from the drudgery of everyday life, and if you give them a unique universe that feels real, they will seek that out beyond just the cinema experience.

This book delves into stories of all kinds, from TV series to games, social media to branding. It takes a scientific look at how our brains are addicted to games and why, how we perceive and react to rewards on an instinctual level, and why humans love to share stories. By the end of this book you will understand what makes an engaging story your audience will want to share, and how different platforms influence your connection. Plus the sheer number of quotes and interviews with leaders in these industries will be enough to keep you turning the page.

Published March 5, 2012, by W.W. Norton and Company. This book is not illustrated. It does, however, have lots of references from creative, multi-media and scientific contemporary figures. The bibliography is extensive and well rounded. It is available on Amazon.

Note: I was not paid or asked to write this review. I chose to read this book for my Master's degree class, Issues in Contemporary Design.

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