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Every Design Has a Story

“Good design is making something intelligible and memorable.  Great design is making something memorable and meaningful”
– Dieter Rams, German industrial designer

Storytelling has always been a vehicle used to engage, entertain and influence human behavior. Traditional storytellers use magnetic plot lines to lead their audiences whether through audio, visual or print media. The usual trajectory of a story starts with a problem, builds tension, achieves climax and ends with the release of a solution.

Each of us filters these stories through our own lens of interpretation.  Even when we are done processing the information we were just given, we sometimes still don’t get it or simply don’t care.  That is because the biggest challenge for storytellers is how they can go about making the content resonate with their audience.

But in today’s world, where everyone is tapping, flipping channels or swiping right, grabbing (and holding onto) the attention of an overstimulated audience has become exceedingly difficult.  For some, this reality seems dismal. But the truth is, there’s energy in a challenge, and right now, the test is in front of us: How can we engage our audiences and make their experiences meaningful? As a  designer, I’m constantly faced with this challenge. The creation of a story that resonates doesn’t occur by happenstance; it is designed, and a good design begins with a good story.

The Designer’s Role

Designers must ascertain how a specific audience thinks, feels and experiences the world around them.  By building products that are both relevant and meaningful, a business can create stronger relationships with its customers and enhance its brand, which in turn generates a greater return on investment.

We rely on emotions to understand the world around us. It’s up to us, the designers to evoke positive emotions from those who use the products we build. Without practice and attention to detail, it can be difficult to elicit the same emotional response one does when telling a personal story as they do when speaking about a new app or website. Adding aesthetically pleasing attributes, functionality and other value-added benefits can generate a meaningful connection with, and response from, the end user.

To increase the overall impact of a product or service, our audiences must become emotionally invested. The content must engage and entice; it must stimulate an interaction. As a designer, it’s my job to consider each pixel and how it plays a role in the stories we tell through the products we build.

Writing user stories is absolutely essential to creating products that resonate with the end user.  User stories are short, simple and goal-oriented scenarios that designers use to map out key interactions. We work backward to develop the steps and related stories that get the user to the finish line. A great example is LinkedIn: If a user’s ultimate goal is to network, we must look at the steps they would need to take to get there and create correlating stories.

As the designer, our objective is to take these stories and connect them as seamlessly as possible for the user. It’s vital that we examine each user’s wishes and understand their goals as the stories we create will dictate the design.

Let’s examine how designers and major brands utilize compelling stories to evoke positive emotions and create meaningful experiences through design.

Keep it Simple

The Converse “Chuck Taylors” were originally designed for basketball players and featured as the official shoe of the 1936 Olympics. The rubber-soled shoes made the successful leap from favorite athletic footwear to popular streetwear thanks to their affordability and trendiness. For almost a century, the design of these shoes remained the same, and even today’s latest model can be linked to the original. What was the secret sauce to the lasting popularity? Simplicity was key: This was a functional product stripped of any unnecessary bells and whistles. It was a minimalistic, fun and wearable shoe whose brand gave a very broad audience the only thing it was after – the pure essence of the product.

The iPhone is another great example of a brand sticking to its unchanging, simplistic design. And while the product gets an upgrade every year, there’s one part that remains consistent in its ease of use – the home screen, which has been largely unchanged since the first design introduced back in 2007. If you’re wondering why it has stayed the same, think about Apple’s message: Home is familiar, it’s significant, and it’s lasting. How we get there may change (i.e., home button), but the home screen will never go away.

Apple, like Converse, saw that simplicity could be sophisticated and set the bar for what consumers looked for as a desirable but also functional trait in design.

Both brands speak to their audiences through storytelling. They’ve worked hard to understand their customers and studied what it would take to demonstrate that understanding. They knew that their brands would either succeed or fail based on their ability to tell a great story. Converse and Apple use the power of storytelling to engage their audiences and encourage them to open their hearts and minds.

Make it Memorable & Meaningful

The ultimate role of the designer is to weave a story that is memorable and meaningful regardless of location, time or device.  The designer must be aware not only of the product but also how it feels to the user and their experience.

Empathy is central to understanding how a product functions for a user and to that extent, it’s a job requirement for UX designers. When a designer can solve a user’s problem by creating a better functioning product, they are succeeding.

All of this, however, must be done behind the scenes because the key to a successful product is making its functionality and interface invisible to the user.  The goal in masking the interface is for the app to become a natural extension of the user.

Stories that contain narratives about characters define the audience’s goals and provide a solution in the form of a product.  Narratives ensure a seamless connection with the functionality of the interface, creating a positive experience.

By knowing how to craft an effective story, we can facilitate the interaction and emotional connection between technology, design, and mankind, forever altering how we interact with and view our world.

Omair Ali is a Sr. Design Manager at ioxd.com