Design, Acting, and the Fourth Wall

A conversation regarding an actor prompted me to revisit a few thoughts on the similarities between design and acting.

I always think that, screen acting is a bit like product design, stage acting is a bit like service design.

Screen Acting is Like Product Design

Screen acting attends to the camera, and the camera is the ultimate representative of the audience. The camera is the audience’s eyes.

All that matters is how it looks, sounds, and feels from the camera’s angle — that of the audience. It doesn’t matter how it looks, sounds, and feels from any angle other than that of the camera. Every single detail on the screen is designed to attend to the camera.

You probably can’t get any more user-centric than that.

Stage Acting is Like Service Design

Stage acting, on the other hand, deals with interactivity in an intimate way.

Both the stage and the performance are designed to provoke reactions from the audience, right then right there. When the actor on the stage talks, she’s always talking to or for the audience. More often than not, the stage actors need to react to the audience in an improvised manner in every show. That’s why no two shows of the same play are really the same. And perhaps every stage play fan knows exactly where the excitement comes from — an unparalleled level of interactivity and intimacy.

You probably can’t get any more servitude than that.

Digital Interface Has a Fourth Wall

Digital products and services have a fourth wall issue, while physical ones often don’t.

Digital interface is designed to impersonate. Users intuitively regard it as if it’s a living entity, who prompts, reacts, and asks back.

When does an interface talk to the user? When should it do so? When can it pose as if talking to itself? And when could it love you back?

Perhaps the fourth wall is what designing and acting share in a profoundly allegorical way.

Further Reading

The intersection of computer and storytelling is a fascinating topic. Here are a few worthy reads to expand your thinking:


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