Design As Storytelling

We all love stories. Stories breathe meaning into the stuff of life. But what about visuals? Can they tell a story? I sure as shine-ola hope so! It’s how so many of us make our living.

The trick is telling the story without the benefit of those pesky little words filling in all the gaps of meaning. So. What. We. Get. Are … pieces. Just like hearing Captain Kirk speak. But with visuals, a story can be compelling. So just how do you craft one effectively?

Know this: Stories have character, conflict and resolution. Good stories allow the audience to know or foresee the resolution or transformation. For design, this structure can result in persuasion, or at least point to it. We can do the same with visuals. Tall order? Well, then, let’s get to it:

Know where you’re going. Where do you want your audience to end up? You’re in the driver’s seat, so you better have your trip planned out. Know your character. Character is plot; it drives the story. In design, the company or subject is the character. If you don’t know it intimately, you can’t tell the story.

Every element needs to be clear. Each piece must speak to the audience and be unambiguous. Your message will be stronger for it. Simplify and connect. Cut what’s unimportant or distracting. If it doesn’t add, it detracts—so subtract it.

Use color to give meaning, not to be pleasing. You want meaning? Invest it. This should allow you great freedom to be brave with color. Screw trends. Exaggerate. You want to make a point? Let people know. Did you ever notice how big the knife is in "Psycho"? It’s huge; larger than normal. And it works. I haven’t showered since.

Distill. You want to assert something quickly? Use a symbol. Better yet, create a new one or allude to one; weave an allusion within the image. Symbols are mighty.

Contrast. You ever notice how something never looks so blue as when it’s placed next to orange? Juxtaposition and contrast push your meaning. Pace. You’re in control. Scary, isn’t it? You can be bold and slam your audience with info, or be coy and reveal it slowly. It all depends on your desired outcome. Just remember, everything is like dating: too much too soon can blow the whole shooting match. Be suave.

You’re a visual communicator. You know all this and more inherently. If you don’t, just say you do and keep going. Being a visual communicator, a storyteller, a designer, is more than merely going through the motions of the design process, making another logo with a swoosh in it.

We’re influenced as individuals by our experiences, our lives. Draw from those places outside your profession. They’re what make your perspective unique. I’d guess that you have something worthwhile to say. You have a voice. Use it.