Start telling stories

When asked to define myself as a Designer I usually tend to rely on my two word short description - Visual Storyteller.

On one hand it sounds cool and modern. Storytelling is a recurring topic on universities and is also being used as a tool by companies I love (such as IDEO) for Research, Design and obviously internal or client presentations.
On the other hand it reflects my commitment as a Designer to find smart narratives to walk others through my process and ideas.

But although I define myself as a “Storyteller”, there is more to it than simply creating interesting narratives for a given idea. What does it mean to tell a story? Or what makes a compelling story?

Despite all the theories and interpretations, we know for a fact that early Humans have been telling rudimentary stories communicating their deeds, adventures and hopes since the beginning of humanity.

But why do stories resonate and stick with us in a way that allow them to be passed down through generations?

“Tell me a fact and I’ll learn. Tell me a truth and I’ll believe. But tell me a story and it will live in my heart forever”
― Indian Proverb

This is Science

In fact a story stays with you way longer than say, a bullet point style PowerPoint presentation or instruction manuals. This happens because for simple messages our brain is only able to light up a few areas mostly related to language. However once we embark on a rich story, fireworks take place inside our brain. Several areas are stimulated reacting in similar ways as with physical experiences.

Naturally we memorize vivid experiences better than boring information, don’t we?

But I’m not a Storyteller

Of course some might argue that they’re not good at presentations or telling stories, but for example, meeting friends on a bar just proves them wrong. We’re all natural-born storytellers. We’re telling stories about our last vacations, about work, about failed relationships, about people we know. We know what makes a good story, the key ingredients, basic recipe, what makes it boring or interesting. Nonetheless we tend to forget it once we’re back to a professional setting.

Start with a set of principles

Going back to the bar, and after listening to some conversations there’s definitively a set of common principles that make for a good story:

  • Quick - No need to rush but as a general rule your audience has no time.
  • Simple - In order to avoid misunderstandings, keep things as simple as possible. Using clear language and knowing where you’re coming and where you’re going usually helps.
  • Engaging - Rely on humor, anecdotes, familiar stories, be a little theatrical. Try to add bits and pieces that connect with your audience on an emotional level. Inciting emotion and empathy is key.
  • Relevant - Understand your audience for they’re thriving for stories they can relate to and connect with.

It’s always about the Hero

There are stories about everything but in the end all of them revolve around the simple idea of Thesis vs Antithesis = Synthesis. In other words, the outcome of the Protagonist vs Antagonist, the basic components of every story. Only the way we think about these components changes. Sometimes the Protagonist is you, someone you know or a complete stranger. Sometimes it might be a brand or even a product. The Antagonist could be a villain but most of the times it is simply a challenge. By overcoming the challenge the protagonist is born anew. Becomes stronger, happier, finds the balance, gets the princess.

Become inspiring

In a way, as John Yorke puts it on his book “Into the Woods” stories and this formula are hard wired into the way the brain works. By overcoming challenges we learn and grow. And with stories that resonate with us, we get the necessary inspiration to try and find the balance in our own lives. And People crave for inspiration. And Brands yearn for ways to inspire people.

Twitter was once the small independent player overcoming the dangers of the corporate world, in order to become a valuable tool on fighting oppression worldwide by providing a “Push-Button Publishing” for everyone. Nike often talks about overcoming your inner demons and “Just do it”.

Get to it

With novels, advertising or brands, there’s a lot of material on how to apply this information on creating compelling narratives. However I’ve been trying to integrate these learnings as ways to find, structure and communicate ideas.

By keeping things short, simple but interesting, structured but engaging, adding unpredicted or familiar elements and understanding the protagonist, the challenges he’s facing, and where he's going to end, we can surely add a little bit of storytelling to everything we do.

If a picture is worth a thousand words, I’m pretty sure a good story is worth a thousand pictures.