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Show and tell: sharing the story behind your creation

Learning to stand by your work and talk about your process is one of the greatest things you can do for your career.

Illustration: Anat Gutberg

Creatives are visual individuals, right? Inspired by images, colors, shapes, and patterns, we are much more inclined to produce and show our visual work. To that end, we are far less inclined to present the words, research, and story behind it. This ethos makes sense to us: after all, “A picture is worth a thousand words,” so why should we bother with the tiresome work of, well, explaining our work? It’s right there, speaking for itself when we present it.

Here to debunk this idea is Inbar Golan, Visual Content Expert Team Lead, from the Content Company at Wix. Working with the Wix Studio designers on a daily basis, Inbar knows a thing or two about how crucial it is for creatives to talk openly, and passionately, about what they created. And, to explain the thought process behind the design.

We dive into conversation with her, as she offers inspiring insights, which will hopefully open your mind, and help you see how sharing your passion — verbally as well as visually — can bring a whole new world of possibilities.

Sharing as a fundamental part of teamwork

Wix Playground: You’re very dedicated to the idea of getting designers to talk about their work and process. Where does that come from? Was there something specific that made you aware of this as an issue?

Inbar Golan: “It evolved from our daily work with the designers in the studio, which is very collaborative. As soon as we finish writing a brief for a new template, we’ll have a kick-off meeting with the designer and a design mentor, in which we explain and present all aspects of the brief. It’s a very important step in the process, where we share the idea, the theme, and our research — all backed by data and relevant visuals. We then begin a mutual process aimed at bringing the brief to life. The next step is for the designer to do their own research, provide their own inspirations, and then show us design sketches for the brief. It was in these meetings that I saw the designers struggle, finding it hard to present their findings and explain the story behind their choices and creative process. Most designers would open their screens, and present their designs as is — without any further explanation or commentary. This notion, that the work speaks for itself, is something I found to be contrary to the concept of teamwork.

After all, there is a reason we are sitting together in a meeting, rather than sending emails to each other. The fact that we are three different minds and brains, seeing something together, has a goal — to create an environment where the whole is bigger than the sum of its parts. If we want to enjoy the benefits of working in a team, we need to have more than just sketches: we need to hear the story behind the design, to hear the designer explain their choices, what it is exactly that they want us to pay attention to. It helps make my input more meaningful.”

The feedback loop

WP: How can a designer affect the input they’re receiving?

IG: “Feedback is a crucial part of the creative process. As a designer you want feedback, you need it. Yet, you fear feedback just as much as you crave it. I believe you can untangle this fear and change your approach to feedback. When a designer presents their work properly, on their own terms, they create the best conditions for themselves to get the feedback they need and want.

If you put your work out there and say nothing, you basically give the viewer permission to address it in any way they like, and they’re now able to focus their attention without any guidance. Whereas, if you present your work and talk about it, you’re the one who focuses the conversation — and therefore the feedback — in the direction you’re interested in. If you lead the discussion, you lead the feedback you’ll receive, which is extremely important.”

Paving the way for your own development

WP: Why should designers put effort into learning how to present their work? What do they get out of it?

IG: “First, there is the benefit of the project itself. Being able to talk about your work creates a collaborative atmosphere within the project and the team, inevitably making the process much richer and more productive. Brainstorming, conversations, ideas being shared — this is the essence of meaningful teamwork and good project management.

Second, it’s to the designer's own benefit: it's about their own positioning and development within the team and the company. Designers who are equipped at talking about their work end up being more appreciated, expanding their abilities, creating opportunities for themselves, and eventually developing their position and their career. If you want to grow as a designer, to be given more complex design assignments, maybe even to go on to reviewing others and talking about others’ work, you need to prove you can talk about your own work first.”

You are the story

WP: Can you learn how to talk about your design? Do you think storytelling is a skill you’re born with, or can you learn it as you go?

IG: “You can definitely develop this skill and perfect it, much like any other skill. For example, I’m not a designer and never will be, but my visual skills are getting better and better the more I work with designers and expose myself to the industry. My perception and outlook of design keeps evolving, and so my visual skills get better and better with time. It’s exactly the same with talking about your work: the more you do it and expose yourself to it, the better you get at it.

Another misleading concept about storytelling is that it’s all about the act of presenting — how to stand in front of an audience, having the right hand gestures, the right tone of voice — which creates a lot of anxiety around it. Whereas, actually, successful storytelling is not about that at all, it’s about the story itself. And we all have a story, the story is you and your ideation process. As soon as you realize this — that the value and the story are already there within you — you’ll find it much easier to find your own narrative.”

WP: What makes something a story? Do you have any tips for good storytelling when it comes to your own project?

IG: “In literature there’s a basic structure: a protagonist; an event that happens to them; and a component of time and change. This is a structure you can borrow and use for your own work. Choose your protagonist — this can be the client, or yourself — and then take them on a journey, talk about them through the lens of the brief and the project. What was your starting point? What were you thinking? What did you see on your way? What was the change that happened? And where did you end up? That way, you build yourself a narrative just by talking about someone, rather than ‘it’.”

We are not this or that: we are both

WP: Why do you think designers find it so difficult to talk about their work?

IG: “For some, it has to do with their design school experience. The situation of presenting your work and receiving feedback — which was sometimes negative and being delivered harshly — was traumatic. For others, they just got away with it somehow, and managed to make it work without really ever talking about their work, and still being relatively successful.

But, mainly, I think it’s because we live in a fragmented world, where we easily succumb to the idea that we are either this or that: visual people or verbal people, never both. But that is just untrue, we are always both. This arbitrary segmentation we have in our culture and workforce is not serving any of us, it keeps us boxed in. We are so used to believing we are good at one thing and not the other, and we end up being the ones setting ourselves back with those beliefs.”

Challenge yourself

WP: How do you address this fragmentation in the studio? Do you try to help designers see that they can be plenty good at speaking on their work?

IG: “It’s really interesting actually. You’ll see a designer sharing a story over lunch, telling everyone about an amazing gig they saw last night, sharing all the excitement and details without showing a single image, just using words. But then when being asked to present their work, they shut down, and fail to see that it's exactly the same skill.

In trying to address this, we created a workshop last summer, around the ‘A Site A Year’ project, in which designers get a chance to create a website for a real client. It was such a nice workshop with great outcomes, so we wanted them to present what they did. The workshop was aimed at helping them share their work and the process that went into it. The first exercise in the workshop had a very simple instruction: each designer had to talk about their project and present it to the team, using nothing but words. They had to explain the process, their choices, their dilemmas, without showing a single visual. It was like asking a dancer to explain a choreography while being tied to a chair. And it worked! It was fascinating to see them having to deal with this limitation. Not being able to point at something in order to demonstrate it, forced them to put words to it. I recommend doing that before any important pitch or presentation: talk to someone about your work without showing anything. It’s a great way to discover the story behind it and reveal more of the process.”

Passion is contagious

WP: You talk a lot about presenting your work in the context of a team, with your colleagues. What about in other situations? Job interview, or networking — is there a difference?

IG: “I think it’s very similar. Let’s take a job interview for example. Some people may think you only need to put your efforts into your portfolio, because this is what you’re being judged on, that’s the basis for hiring. But actually, after the portfolio comes the interview, and in that interview you’ll be asked questions that are aimed at understanding who you are, and what your thought process is like — how your mind works. At the end of the day, people hire you and your mind, the person, not the portfolio. And so being able to explain the way you approached a project and how you came to that design is just as important as the design itself.

The same goes for professional encounters and networking. It all comes down to sharing your passion. When someone asks you what you do, you can say, ‘I’m a designer.’ But that means so many different things to different people. If you can elaborate, and talk with enthusiasm about what you do, in detail and with care, people will be attracted to your spark.”

The only rule: there are no rules

WP: Do you have any rules of thumbs to follow for good storytelling?

IG: “No! [laughs]. There are no rules, but that’s actually a good thing, because it relieves you from the stress of getting it right. We live in a world of ‘5 tips’ and ‘how to,’ but I really believe that there is no structure and no one way of doing things. We are humans who share our stories and our lives all the time, in a different way every day. And that’s ok, that’s the way it should be, because it means we trust the process, and the questions that arise, and we trust ourselves and the integrity of our story.”

Trust yourself

WP: OK, so no rules, but what about general advice, or things to remember as you develop those skills?

IG: “Yes, there are definitely things you can always go back to if you’re feeling stuck or unsure:

Ask questions. That’s how you find answers. The more you ask yourself questions about your work, the more you get a feel for the story, and the themes that arise from it.

Nothing should be taken for granted. Every small decision you make deserves attention when you present your work. We tend to overlook things, underestimate their importance, or think it’s obvious. Palette, fonts, layout, images, these allow people to get to know your mind by explaining them.

Use your inspiration as a reason. Walk the viewer through your mood board, and explain how you used those inspirations.

Get used to wording your choices. And then just do more of that. It’ll open up doors and opportunities you never even thought of, because it allows more people to connect to you and your work, and understand your skillset.

Trust that your voice is interesting. I wish all designers understood that they have valuable things to say, not just show. Your thought process is what sets you apart from everyone else. It's where you bring your value to the workplace, and with the people you meet.”


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