What Is Storytelling in Design and How to Use It
“People think that stories are shaped by people. In fact, it’s the other way around.”
People are shaped by stories. Storytelling humanizes the brand, engages and provokes an emotional response, and helps prospects relate to your offer.
Small wonder storytelling in design is so popular! Brands and marketers can apply design storytelling to their brand, product, and user experience – it’s extremely versatile.
Let’s deep dive into this concept to see what storytelling in design stands for, how you can apply it to your brand and product, and some good examples of design stories.
What Is Storytelling in Design?
People love stories. Stories explain the word and reaffirm our position in relation to others.
We tell each other (and ourselves) stories to organize the chaos and find the path forward. Stories always have a character that we can relate to, so we can see ourselves in this character’s shoes, and experience their emotions.
But how to tell a story without saying a word? Well, through design.
You can let your users know that they are in the right place, your brand shares the same values, and your product is matching their personality and lifestyle. This is where storytelling in design draws its powers from.
What Makes a Good Story
When thinking of storytelling, as a designer you have to put all the elements in the right order. You need to align the elements of traditional storytelling to define, design, and deliver your product or service experience. Here is the recipe:
1. Characters: Create a character that represents your ideal customer profile – how they dress, how they act, which are their needs and what they truly enjoy.
2. Plot: Create a narrative that shows how your character is achieving his desires and goals. The most commonly used structure of a story plot includes 5 main components :
- Beginning (setting and exposition)
- Solving a problem
- Culmination (touching the core of a problem)
- Outcome (what happens after the problem is resolved).
3. Theme: A good theme creates a trustworthy place for your characters and plot.
4. Setting: Is everything aligned to fit together? Create the backdrop for your story to unfold.
All these elements working together will allow you to make a good design story.
How to Reach Users Through Stories
As human beings, we respond more favorably and attach more strongly to things that move us emotionally, than to the ones that ‘just work’. Nothing moves us better than recognizing ourselves in the story.
But how to know if you are telling the right story? You cannot tell touching stories to people without knowing them.
The first step when adding storytelling to your toolbox is to revisit your buyer personas and put yourself in the users’ shoes. This way you can understand their pain points, the journey they are on, and what solution they are looking for.
If you don’t have buyer personas, start by creating a personification of your most valuable user group. For example:
- Is your persona a 27 years old digital nomad, looking for a cool tool to experiment with?
- Or, is your persona a business person, looking for a solution that would save them some precious time?
If the first description fits your persona best, tell a story using the newest and best trends in design. Digital nomads know what is trendy and what is not, so plug into the newest, coolest colors, keep the pace of your story fast, and relate to their interests.
Alternatively, if your persona is a busy entrepreneur looking for a way to optimize a process and cut time, put that persona in the story as the main character. Show your persona that you know their pain. Tell a story that your user is going to vibe with.
Examples of Storytelling in Design
To make all of this more tangible, here are some examples of really good design storytelling that we all can draw inspiration from.
Nike’s Maternity Line Design Story
Nike is largely known for its human-centric design. Launching a new maternity sportswear line, the brand told a story by simply adding one more check sign to their famous logo. A design story any parent (to be) can easily relate to.
This is not the first time Nike changes its logo – remember they changed the slogan from ‘Just do it’ to ‘For once, don’t do it’ echoing the Black Lives Matter movement.
H&M Design Story: Sustainability and Care
While H&M is facing accusations of ‘greenwashing’, the brand is still set to send out an environmentally conscious message to its users. This campaign shows how they communicate sustainability via design.
From the choice of colors – earthy and warm – to the positions of the people on the photos, creating a sense of unity, care, and togetherness, all the way to the copy, using phrases such as ‘let’s change’, ‘clean up’ and ‘take care’, the whole page works towards a common goal. Its clear message reads sustainablity, consciousness, and care.
Starbucks Design Story: You’re in the Right Place
This is the homepage of Starbucks UK – a brand that knows exactly what its customers value. Quality experience, speed of service, loyalty rewards, and a sprinkle of geeky joy.
The whole page reaffirms the message ‘you are in the right place.’ The brand’s slogan ‘it all starts with you’ is communicated with all elements of the design. From the rewards section to the personification with the playful ‘yesssss’ and the emojis, it all adds up to a perfect brand story told in less than 2 seconds.
Airbnb Design Story: Everyone Is Invited
Airbnb’s buyer persona is all over the world, literally at that. Their persona is a traveler, explorer, diversity-lover, and a free-spirited soul.
What is Airbnb’s design story? Diversity and inclusion. The design itself communicates the message – we are all different, be whoever you want to be, we celebrate diversity. Singers, cocktail lovers, animal lovers, athletes, couples – anybody can relate to an element of this simple design. Mission achieved.
Apple’s iPod Launch 2001: It’s All About the User
A classic and revolutionary at the time product storytelling example comes from Apple. Back in 2001, Steve Jobs presented the new product with a few simple words – 1,000 songs in your pocket.
When the iPod came out, it featured 1GB of storage. Apple didn’t talk about how many gigabytes of storage their player had, the screen size, or the cool scrolling technique they’d developed. Instead of discussing features and benefits, Apple flipped the tagline into a standalone story that spoke loudly and clearly to the users.
Use This Classic Storyboard: Problem, Solution, Success
If you’ve found inspiration in any of these stories, and have your characters, theme, and setting all ready to roll, the next step would be to create your storyboard.
A storyboard describes what is actually happening in your story. Who is doing what, where, and how? What obstacles does the main character need to overcome? And, in the end, has your character achieved what he wanted in the first place.
There is a universal story plot most design stories rely on, and it is as simple as this: Problem, Solution, Success.
First, you can set the context by directly pointing out the problem that you are going to solve. The good part of having a problem is that you can follow with a solution and here comes the second big thing – showcase how you can solve your persona’s problem. Design a nice case study page or add some growth numbers – it’s up to you.
‘And they lived happily after’ is not only applicable in children’s stories – a good way of wrapping up your design story is to define success. Using strong visual elements, you can induce feelings of happiness, growth, relief, and many more positive associations.
Problem, Solution, Success is the most commonly used storyboard because it allows you to fit all the things you want to share with your audience, and still create a strong emotional connection with the user.
Other story plot ideas to choose from might be creating an empathy feeling and relating to your customer while making him recognize himself as a victim of some injustice, or showcasing your solution and the success it brings, without pointing out a problem first. These are altogether less efficient, so try the best approach first.
Tell Your Users’ Stories With Design
Storytelling helps you establish a long-term relationship with your customer. Design stories help build relationships, rather than just sell a product. If your audience relates to your brand or product story, this audience is here to stay.
Telling a good story with design can take many different forms. It could be an amazing narrative or video, it could be a simple visual. The most important factor is to connect the story to your brand in a way that resonates with users. In design, a story is all about creating an emotion.
On a roll? See more on how creativity gives you an edge in marketing.