Design & Storytelling

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A match made in Heaven.

I’ve been writing personally as far back as I can remember, and professionally, in some way, shape or form, for almost 15 years, and in my new role as Creative Strategist for a graphic design firm I didn’t expect to be doing as much creative writing as I’ve been doing from the start. In the several months that I have been working for said graphic design firm I have learned a ton of stuff, but one element I am proud to have learned, or rather discovered, is just how important storytelling is within design.

For a design to be successful it has to follow many UI principles, but in order for a project to be successful, there must first be a story. Storytelling is the foundation of good design.

The best designers practice story-centered design. Building that story by researching your client and the brand’s background is the blueprint that gives way to the path of the design. Listening, learning, and interpreting that story to incorporate history, marketing and shared experience. It begins with crafting stories that show how customers should feel about the product, and only after the story is ready, do designers begin designing.

The design has to be clean enough for websites, products, etc, but it always has to have a certain audacious point to give meaning. As a writer, a storyteller, I find this absolutely fascinating.

Why story-centered design works so well.

It simulates the user experience.
Story-centered design forces us to ride shotgun with customers through every single step. That gives the entire team (designers, engineers, CEOs) a system for making design decisions based on how people will actually experience the product.

Teams spot problems earlier.
Because stories add a time dimension, they highlight all sorts of design mistakes that teams often miss when viewing their product as just a bunch of screens. Stories make it easier to notice when prompts don’t set the right expectations. UI flows that have unnecessary steps and dead-ends get noticed and fixed more quickly. All these small details add up to better usability and user engagement.

It clarifies design goals up-front.
When teams start by designing stories, it forces everyone to come to agreement on the design goals before working out the details. That’s helpful because after designers have spent hours on detailed UI mockups, critique will be narrowly focused on whether the designs accomplish pre-set and understood goals.

It’s science!
Well, sort of. Thinking about how a customer goes from initial trigger (like an email or push notification) all the way through to finishing a goal maps fairly well according to Dr. BJ Fogg’s Behavior Model of Triggers, Motivations, and Ability. When a behavior does not occur, at least one of those three elements is missing. Stories make it easier to check that you have all these elements in place to encourage user behavior. Plus Dr. BJ Fogg is a cool name.

All of that said, as a writer first and foremost, it is refreshing to see how much storytelling goes into web design.

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