Retaining Wall.

Of Wizards, Lamborghinis and Story in the Design Process: The First Post in a Series

It’s not uncommon to see someone in full wizard garb at Volta Coffee in Gainesville, Florida.  Even aspiring conjurers need a caffeine jolt.  But add to the mix a young professional sipping a double espresso with his red Lamborghini parked just outside and you start to get a feeling that this local coffee scene supports more than just a diverse clientele … it’s a meeting point and incubator of story.  A place where the most amazing story I could ever hear might be sitting just a table away, enjoying an iced cafe au lait.


Wizards, Lamborghinis and Volta Coffee had me ruminating on the importance of story, especially its use in the design process.  How story bonds design concepts to people and places in meaningful, understandable ways.  How it adds authenticity, relevancy and even whimsy in the creation and reinvention of cities and destinations.


A century ago, Gainesville was still throwing off its “Hogtown” roots and starting down the road as a major point of research, education and service anchored by the University of Florida.  The City’s story then was linked to cotton, World War I and the University’s enrollment of just under 200 students.  The rapid growth of the City, the 51,725 students, the wizards, and Volta Coffee would all come later.


The new Gainesville is perhaps exemplified by the recent opening of Florida Innovation Hub at UF and the broader plans to transform six city blocks into Innovation Square, a node for research, commerce, housing and recreation.  Development of “shark skin” technology to reduce treatment-resistant bacterial infections in hospitals is the story of the day here; a storyline, at least in rough outline, that was envisioned in the master planning and design of this new district.


That cup of coffee in Gainesville and Volta’s merry band set into motion a bit of a side project: To document through a series of interviews why story matters and to uncover the steps taken to explore, and ultimately, script meaningful stories as part of the design process.  More than 25 conversations later, there is still much to learn… but also, much to share. Over the course of my next several posts, I will introduce you to several professionals for which story and design are an essential part of their work.  Each offers a bit of wizardry of their own making useful for practitioners seeking to advance the craft of story in their creative process.