Nimble: Crafting Digital Narrative Experiences

The author of more than twenty books, a HOW Design Live speaker and a design professor at Kean University, Robin Landa recently released her newest book about design thinking, Nimble: Thinking Creatively in the Digital Age.

The newest addition to her collective work focuses on merging creative thinking skills with critical thinking skills to stay on top of the ever-changing design industry. Robin’s comprehensive analysis provides insight into how to strategically design across platforms and how to be a forward-thinker.


The following excerpt from Nimble exposes the significance of presenting core brand messaging through storytelling.




Poster: Rosie the Riveter: “We Can Do it” Artist: J. Howard Miller Commissioner: Westinghouse Electric and Manufacturing Company Date: co. 1942

Designers have always told stories through visual communications. We tell stories on book covers, in editorial spreads, on posters and through other formats. During World War II, the Rosie the Riveter “We Can Do It!” poster called women to action. A compelling story told through an illustration urged them to contribute to the war effort by joining the workforce.

Of course, illustrators, cartoonists, photojournalists, and filmmakers visually communicate stories. In Manohla Dargis’s New York Times review of the Disney movie Maleficent, she wrote, “Mr. Stromberg, a production designer making his feature directing debut, does best when he scales down, as in the lovely shots of Maleficent walking next to a floating, unconscious Aurora, an image that telegraphs more about their relationship than any line of dialogue.”

Today graphic designers and art directors craft narrative brand experiences in ways that are more like short story writers or filmmakers and less like the thinking behind conventional formats—such as concepts for annual reports (thematic; narrative clearly promoting the brand or group) or book covers (that tell a story in the form of a still).

This chapter is not about creating the core brand narrative as a strategic branding premise that sets the foundational brand values and the emotional connection with the audience; however, one needs to understand that aspect of branding. The core brand narrative has to be the point of entry and foundation for all specific stories to keep the brand message relevant, engaging and on track as well as to aid brand resonance.

People’s behaviors have changed due to the proliferation of social media, video sharing platforms and other technological changes. We need 
to respond to those changes and create work that finds them where they spend time and addresses their needs, desires and habits. We need to be concerned with crafting brand stories as visual communication experiences. These stories need to pull in an audience rather than be pushed at the audience (print, banners, annual reports, TV commercials). We need to be able to create content people will seek out, content they want to view and share, content that they respond to as entertainment or relevant in- formation dissemination rather than conventional marketing. Of course, these new-style brand experiences, services or utilities should support the greater brand narrative and have to be on-brand, most often featuring the brand in the story in subtle but integral ways. Think of BMW films, Burger King’s “Subservient Chicken,” or Chipotle’s “The Scarecrow” and “The Beauty Inside” for Toshiba and Intel: These stories can stand alone to entertain, inform, educate and promote or endear people to a brand.

“The ultimate goal is building the work to get people to want to watch it, to participate in it, to share it. If we don’t see that kind of potential in an idea, we don’t go with it. Essentially the story will make people want to engage with it,” explains PJ Pereira, chief creative officer and cofounder, Pereira & O’Dell, whose agency created “The Beauty Inside.” (Read the complete interview with PJ Pereria in chapter 6.)


  • STORYTELLING THAT IS ON-BRAND such as IBM’s “A Boy and His Atom: The World’s Smallest Movie” by Ogilvy New York. To get today’s youth to admire scientists the way they admire athletes and actors became IBM’s mission. Agency Ogilvy writes, “So they asked us: How do we spread the word about science? Our solu
tion was to make the world’s smallest movie. Each frame is made of hundreds of atoms (yes, real atoms), moved to their exact placements by the scientists at IBM Research – Almaden. The frames are combined into an animation, which is now the Guinness World Records TM record holder for World’s Smallest Stop-Motion Film. The scientists themselves made the movie.”
  • STORY THROUGH ON-BRAND ACTIONS The brand or group offers an active experience (an event—in person or online, entertainment, education and more) or offers a service, utility or event to tell its story—for example, sports events sponsored by Red Bull, in place of marketing pushed at people.

To read more of Robin’s insight on design thinking, purchase Nimble from MyDesignShop.