We live our stories

an excerpted introduction from the near-future design lecture ‘A storyFirst Approach to Human-Centered Design’

Lou Susi
7 min readFeb 3, 2014


What story are we telling right now: by reading this article on the web; by contributing to the world through our chosen professions and daily activities; by being here { wherever that may be for you right now } in the given moment, participating in life in our own special way?

Whether we realize it or not, just our very presence and your willingness to come out tonight { I wrote this in anticipation of giving my upcoming lecture, ‘A storyFirst Approach to Human-Centered Design’ at MassArt on February 13th 2014 } and listen to me tell you about my ideas for design as both a profession and a very human tool for living our lives speaks volumes to me about who you are and what’s important to you for our life and for the future of the world.

storyFirst promotes putting your own human-centered story at the core of just about everything you’re attempting to design

I am guessing your involvement here tonight means that you are someone that loves learning things — new ideas, new perspectives for your career and your life — you are passionate and curious and idealistic and you want to learn how to change the world.

You are a designer or a storyteller or a user experience design professional { whatever that means, right? }.

Maybe you’re a bit on the fringe of society — and if so, I want to take this moment to say, ‘Welcome, you’re in the right place, my friends. You’re safe here with us tonight.’

Maybe … just maybe … you’re frustrated, disappointed, confused, upset, stuck, struggling, looking for a way to create a new and more meaningful path for yourself and maybe, hopefully, you’re looking for a better way for individuals to contribute toward building a better path to travel for the world.

a beautiful sunlit path to the seaside beach

Sounds impossible, right?

Or, at the very least, but perhaps of the utmost importance to me at this point in time for the content and place we’re in tonight for this vital discussion—you’re a colleague, acquaintance, a friend or a connection through my network of amazingly creative and talented people that I’ve consciously built up around myself over the course of my career and my lifetime.

Or you might’ve stumbled onto this { event } article very much by happenstance. And that’s also more than okay — thank you for reading this far. I hope you’re intrigued enough to continue reading on.

I want to let you know that I have a few personal motivations I’m keeping super secret right now and I will NOT reveal them to you tonight as part of our storyFirst discussions.

And keep in mind, everyone, absolutely everyone surely has an ulterior motive residing at the core of everything they do.

So, tonight I will not let you know with polite and adequate forewarning that by giving this talk I hope to accomplish the following important personal / political goals:

I want to make design more accessible, inclusive and warm as a professional and personal tool for both business and for life.

I want to create an ongoing diaolog to help define, shape and develop a toolkit for designers and other proponents for creative decision-making practices to leverage.

I want to place story / storytelling in that toolkit as one of the prominent and most powerful design devices for any of us to easily access and utilize for just about every and any challenge we may be facing in life.

a proposed natural model for the storyFirst approach to iterative story-driven, human-centered design


You may be asking the question, ‘Lou, but why? Why Story? Why do you want to draw attention to Story as a design tool? I mean, I thought Photoshop or WordPress or HTML5 and Responsive Mark-Up with CSS3 and JavaScript 7.2 were the modern tools for designers to use, right? Axure or Omnigraffle, Creative Suite or BootStrap — these are the tools and materials we as designers use on a daily basis—what’s all this about Story?’

Well, I want to leverage a force that’s entirely more universal and accessible to us all than these industry standard software solutions. And these applications and mark-ups and techniques and snippets from the buzzSearch responses touching upon almost all of our design resumés aren’t exactly universal tools you’ll be able to take with you no matter where you go, right? And they’re all entirely dependent upon physical hardware and operating systems and budgets and I frankly just don’t even consider them my design tools of choice at all anymore.

Sure, I need to know how to use these production facilitation engines to put together an onscreen experience or an information architecture, but these aren’t the actual tools we need to create excellent design.

I wanted to find a force that’s more accessible to anyone out there in the world, regardless of their budget or platform or any of these pesky details that come with a corporate day job.

So, what’s a more universal tool that everyone already owns as individuals, as friends, as social groups, as families, as neighbors, as cultures and subcultures, as cities and towns and nations and continents and as even civilizations?

What’s the one thing we ALL have in common?

everybody in the world has a story to tell and a story we’re working on for the future of the world


Whether we’re aware of it or not—and whether we care to admit it or not—we are all telling a story. We tell a story by merely living and breathing and leading our everyday lives. And whether we care to admit it or not, we are all subconsciously telling stories all of the time.

We tell stories to ourselves.

We make stories out of seemingly unrelated events in our lives and through the disparate things we encounter in our lives as a means to better understand and survive in the world we all live in.

We make stories to retrospectively analyze eras of time in life { we call this history } to comprehend the past and help us navigate the future.

And we need to understand.

We need to decipher and create meaning and significance from little bits and pieces of life as its happening all around us.

And we all tell a story with our lives — with how we lead our lives—and with both our actions and our inactions as we incorporate them into the very pulse and beat of our daily lives.

There is the story we each tell — both to ourselves and to the world. And there is our collective story—the one we’re all ultimately working on together—in either a conscious or subconscious way.

tonight i want you to ask yourself to seriously consider what kind of story you are currently telling the world on a daily basis through the way you live your life

What’s your story?

I want you to think about that question here tonight. And I want you to continue to work on that question in an iterative fashion from this point on until the day you die.

This is why we are here. We are ALL contributing to a story.

For the purpsoes of our talk tonight I am going to define design as both the conscious and subconscious making of stories.

I believe everything is designed. The intentionality of our design is the result of our active and conscious design efforts—what we all know of as The Design Practice—as well as the inactive, conscious and subconscious allowance for a lack of genuine human-driven intervention in the very stream of life itself—what we might think of as silent and passive acceptance—which I consider to be not only actual, consciously decided-upon acceptance but also the support for—the way things actually are in the world and with our given systems of the day.

And acceptance can come from a sense of apathy or selfishness or maybe even a saddened sense of learned futility.

I hope you came here tonight to work on your own story—and I hope you are also open to joining me as we discuss how we can all engage with each other to start really improving our collective human story.

together we can create a far more positive and far more powerful collective human story for the world and for the future of humanity



Lou Susi

experience designer, writer, performance artist, and devoted husband and father