Design Basics: Storytelling in Design

Design Basics: Storytelling in Design

April 2, 2014 by

It has been said that a picture is worth a thousand words. If that is true why do we at times struggle to use design to tell great stories? Too often we look at design as an afterthought, the imaging next to a story or just how we sum everything up. But the truth is design is so much more. Design has the ability to be the centerpiece of the narrative we want to share.

As creative people, what does the process look like to move our art from window dressing to narrative?

Identify the Story
We have to identify the story we are trying to tell. What is the story? Is it compelling? Do people care about this story? If they do how are we using our design elements to frame the story? Are we articulating the characters in our story and the plot via our design? And the most important question we can ask: Is this interesting? If it is not interesting people won’t care. Once we have identified the story and vetted it to make sure we are sharing the right thing then it is time to move into the project. Remember that as often as possible a shortcut to making our story stick is attaching it to vision. When we do this it supports a bigger cause.

Don’t Over Complicate Things
Keeping narrative design simple is vital. Less is always more. We have to be cautious we are not getting engulfed in details. Simplicity is vital to the success of your design telling a story. So many designers ask, “What can I add?” when the most important question we can ask is “What could I remove from this design and not lose any of the story?” Design narrative should not be about impressing people with your amazing skill, it should be about connecting them to your message and experience.

Get the Important Details
Design storytelling requires artists to incorporate the most important details without screaming. It’s a lot to juggle. How can you keep the culture of your organization, the brand you are protecting and the purpose/story you are trying to share? What is the absolutely most important detail you are trying to share? Keep that out front when you are creating.

Be Honest
Honestly is approachable. Narrative design does not have to be about hype. The best art we create should come from honest, approachable and broken places. If you want to create a postcard to sell something there won’t be much story in that design, but if you want to create a tool to share hope—that sounds like it is full of story! People are looking to connect to experiences others have had or they can share. Honesty gives people permission to let their guard down and explore if they are interested in the story you are telling. Fight to be honest and avoid hype in the pieces you are making. When we share experience, emotion and are authentic in our design it increases trust and develops a bond between the person viewing our pieces and the story we are sharing

Remember the Audience
The minute we take our eye off the audience we waste the chance to maximize the narrative in our design. The audience matters. Speak their language. Remember their context. Our audiences have to be able to relate to the story we are telling through our work. What in your story is accessible to the audience for which you are designing? If there is nothing for the audience to connect with we will not meet the expectations we are creating for this piece.

Does Your Design Require a Call to Action?
Some stories don’t require a next step and some beg for one. Make sure that when designing you look for the ability to move the audience to the next step through your design.

Tell Great Stories
Your work matters so much more than you realize. You get to create these pieces that are going to help move people forward in their faith journey or maybe connect with Christ for the first time ever. What a powerful responsibility that we have to steward, let’s tell the best story ever as well as we can through our art.

More: Check out the rest of our Design Basics series.

Post By:

Stephen Brewster


I have the honor of serving as the creative arts pastor at Cross Point Church in Nashville, Tenn., and have spent the past 15 years in professional creative environments including church, music business, marketing, management, artist development, creative team leading and art directing. I live in Franklin, Tenn., with my wife Jackie and our four amazing kids, and you can follow me on Twitter at @B_rewster.
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