Why the best experiences have invisible structure

When it comes to creating something that other people experience - a presentation, a class program, even a movie - you don’t want any of them to see what you’ve done.

Yes, you read that correctly. And don’t take my word for it - this idea was central to the work of perhaps the most versatile and prolific movie director in history.

Billy Wilder started out in 1930s Berlin as a ballroom club dancer - paid by the dance (the gig economy was happening well before Uber). After fleeing to Paris to escape the Nazis, he became a touring music journalist, before finding his groove as a screenwriter and director. By the time he was done, he’d directed over 30 movies and notched up 7 Oscars, 2 Golden Globes and a Palme d’Or. All with a iconoclastic approach and a mischievous sense of humor.

Suffice to say, Billy had some great insights on story. Here’s one:

“Story needs architectural structure, which is completely forgotten once you’ve seen the movie”

You can substitute ‘seen the movie’ for your client presentation, a masterclass session, a team workshop,, a bedtime story, and just about anything else that people engage with.

My riff on Billy’s idea is to think of this as ‘Invisible Structure’.

Done well, it carries everything - and everyone - on the journey. But if the structure is too visible, people will strain against it or tune out completely.

The art - the skill - is in making sure it’s all there, but that no one can quite see it.

As a designer and builder, this can be agony. You need to invest a lot of work, only to put it all below the surface.

But it’s worth it. The best stories and experiences all use invisible structure.

For more tips on designing and building experiences that matter, check out our free 5-day email course.

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