Alex McDowell on telling stories that shape the future

A veteran of the cinematic arts, renowned designer Alex McDowell believes that storytelling has the power to influence design.

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From fanzines to music videos to major feature films like Fight Club and Minority Report, award-winning designer Alex McDowell has tested the limits of storytelling since the start of his career. On the Design Indaba stage at the 2016 Conference, McDowell talked openly about the ways in which the trajectory of his career has forced him to think deeply about the linear notion of storytelling and how this notion has started to shift.

“We’re entering the post-cinematic era,” said McDowell. “The virtual reality, the augmented reality and the mixed reality tools that have now come upon us do something more than provide a kind of gimmick to sell. They fundamentally change the way we think about storytelling.”

As the director of both 5D Global Studio and the World Building Media lab, McDowell creates immersive worlds for numerous industries. The World Building Media Lab is behind the Leviathan project, an augmented reality, immersive flying-whale fantasy world.

In Steven Spielberg’s 2002 sci-fi film Minority report, McDowell designed an entire futuristic city set in the year 2054. The innovations he imagined in the film would go on to have a hand in the technologies we see today.

“Now we’ve moved from this linear narrative, this fixed or controlled frame into a spherical narrative space,” he explains. “So now we need to pay attention to the entire ‘world space’. To the sphere of narrative opportunities that are around us.”

McDowell believes the new wave of storytelling is as big a disruption as cinema was when it first dazzled audiences. It’s a way in which storytelling can do more than explore the world. It can also shape the future.

Watch the Interview with Alex McDowell