Co.Design

Tiny Story: A Short Film About The Fundamentals of Narrative Design

Sebas and Clim boil visual storytelling down to its pure graphic essence.

Good storytelling looks ridiculously easy when it’s done well, but is in fact devilishly hard to pull off. (Just ask Ira Glass.) The only way to get better is to practice--and what better way to practice than by forcing yourself to tell a story with only the simplest possible elements? That’s what animators Sebas and Clim have done with Tiny Story, an animated film that plays like an Elements of Style for narrative design. Their tools: a dot, a line, and a colored background. Their results … well, just see for yourself:

Like Nathaniel Whitcomb and Moonbot Studios, Sebas and Clim earn points right away for thinking outside the standard widescreen box. But the simple elegance of what they do inside that box is what makes Tiny Story so delightful and inspiring.

The film brings simple action verbs to life by animating their dramatic essence with simple graphic shapes. It’s like a periodic table of storytelling atoms: "dream" is illustrated by three white dots arcing gently upwards like a kite string; "learn" shows two tiny circular loops closing into completion with a satisfying, solid pop; and in "love," a dot and a line "see" each other through a perforated barrier, move past it in graceful sync, and then clasp together like Romeo and Juliet. The genius of Tiny Story is how each of these vignettes--mere seconds long--suggests a whole narrative world with only the sparest of building blocks. And strung together, the vignettes build on each other to suggest an even larger story about, dare I say it, the human condition. (I had to write each caption down in a list in order to see the pattern, but I swear it’s in there.)

Storytelling is an increasingly important part of successful design. It’s easy to think, "How on earth am I supposed to tell a story using just a logo? Or a package? Or a typeface?" But Tiny Story shows us that engaging narratives can be conjured up out of just about anything, no matter how sparse or simple. Anyone who cares about connecting with people--designers, artists, writers, filmmakers, broadcasters, podcasters, marketers, scientists--should study Tiny Story and take its lessons to heart.

[Image: Debbie Oetgen/Shutterstock]

Add New Comment

8 Comments

  • Quinnbarry

    A very good reminder that STORY and MEANING can be explained through the interaction of very small and nondescript elements. I'm sure its not a new thought to motion designers, but the interaction between the elements, does tell a story.

    How often do we see elements in digital design that are missing the opportunity to add TRUST to a banks website, or a small animation that let's you know the online chat function is listening?

  • tim mundorff

    In his Eon series, Sci Fi writer Greg Bear shows us a world 1300 years in the future where people communicate primarily by "picting" a form of "Graphicspeak" projected in a mid-air adjacent to their faces.  I've always been fascinated by how this might work.  Your article reminds me of this.

  • Matt Woods

    Koen: A bit harsh and - dare I say it - simplistic? The notion that "actual" design has no connection with theory is a difficult one to defend.
    I leaned (or was reminded of) something. For me, the film illustrates that narrative can be conveyed quickly and effectively using witty, insightful visual design.
    I could gas on about the relationship between semiotics and aesthetics but you'd probably start to nod off...

  • Matt Duffy Chidley

    It's a lovely piece, but I must disagree that a series of abstract concepts and images constitutes a narrative/story.

  • Wil de Boer

    I love, LOVE stuff like this. So simple yet sophisticated true testament to form follows function.

  • Koen

    It's certainly nice to watch, but what does it teach me? Typical stuff for design-writers and journalists who love to theorize, not actual designers...