Information, Design, and the
Manifold Narrative
The wisdom of Ralph Waldo Emerson transcends the ages. "The eye is the first circle," he writes, and by those same words the eye is also the first lens; the curvature formed by the ear is the second, and this is followed by the curl of the fingers. Our primordial ways of seeing the world trickle forth from here, tumbling down the skeleton until we land upon the feet, the oft-forgotten lens that exchanges the directed gaze of the eye for peregrinations of the body. These are the gimbals of sensemaking, and they steer us through our world.
And then there is the substrate of our sensemaking: information, bite-sized representations of reality. Singularly, they tell us the small, tedious facts of our world — what the temperature is, how much we weigh, the score of the championship tennis match — but collectively, in constellation, they tell us about who we are, what we do, and why we do it. It is through information that the drama of our lives unfold, and it is through information that we express that unfolding drama in space and time.
In moments of sensemaking, we frame information through the most compelling medium available to us: the narrative. This is not the lowercase narrative of storybooks but rather its uppercase sibling, Narrative, the manifold divulgement of words, images, and sounds over time that paints landscapes of information. We are the designers of this narrative, and through our actions, identities, and ideologies we brandish immense power in shaping the way it is framed.
Much like the directed gaze of our eyes, this frame is our lens, and we shift narrative by transforming the position and bounds of that lens. Through one gimbal we can laterally shift its focus, capturing some dimensions while obfuscating the rest.
We can also enlarge or shrink our lens, changing the scope of what passes the threshold of our collection. And we can rotate that lens, changing the angle of its perspective. When we apply these transformations, the narrative that is constructed inside of the lens changes shape too; likewise, as the narrative morphs into something new, it pushes against the boundaries of the lens. In this way, the lens and the narrative are bound to one another; the lens informs the narrative, and the narrative informs the lens.
But there is more than one way to shift a narrative. Sure, you can move the frame, but the frame is susceptible to gimbal lock when our perspective becomes fixed by bias, ignorance, or apathy toward what we capture within the lens. If what we desire is a narrative that is free in its rotation, unbridled by the persuasions of perspective alone, we need one more gimbal — we must move the observer, to think and sense with our feet instead of our eyes alone.
When we begin to do this, we encounter startling discoveries. Sometimes our narratives are embedded within others, inheriting their perspective and expressions of truth. Sometimes our narratives are lost in a sea of narratives, bound together only by way of their parallel motion, striving in unison towards something on the other side of where we are now. And yet sometimes our narratives are not truly narratives at all but rather incomplete patchworks of information stitched together by threads that champion falsehood at the expense of truth. These are the narratives we must be careful of the most — these are the narratives in gimbal lock.
The point is that a narrative is manifold in its expression, and those expressions may overlap in constructive and destructive ways. Like the interference of waves of sound, the ways we frame our narratives intersect with sometimes unpredictable consequences when we are limited in the knowledge and information we hold. If narrative is a representation of reality, design is a means of interrogating that narrative and the reality it represents. We are all designers of that narrative; we choose the framings we use to communicate with one another. We can choose to be selective about the voices we listen to and acknowledge those narratives alone while ignoring the rest. But good design protests against shifts of narrative that exclude certain voices in the advancement of others. It recognizes the malleability of truth when the narrative medium is used to marginalize instead of empower.
This, then, is the responsibility entrusted to each and every one of us: to be artists, designers, and practitioners who uphold the sanctity of narrative, who think with our feet and not only our eyes. We must be mobilized to see narrative not as immutable material but as the flexible medium that preserves all voices, our own and those of others alike. And we must acknowledge that for every singular expression of a narrative, there is an infinity of others that seek to make claims to the same reality — and truth is beholden to the eyes of many.

This, above all else, is why I choose design as my medium.