Design Story
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Design Story

Story-driven drawings by James Buckhouse

Design starts with story.

Every endeavor, every undertaking, every hope, every mystery, every product, every artwork, every romance, every skyscraper, every novel, every film, every chair, every hammer, every automobile, every shopping mall, every dining hall, every bookshelf, every comic book, every app, every company, every government, every lawsuit, every piece of clothing, every can of dog food, every hand-tooled leather saddle, every wedding, every multi-billion-dollar-valuation, every dilapidated warehouse, every city of the future, every graveyard of the past, every childhood dream and every lifetime achievement starts with one thing: a story.

Sometimes the story inspires nations and millions and propels humankind forward. Other times the story tells a smaller tale—a process or product that aspires to a specific, minor transformation. Yet in all cases, for every human-made object or initiative, a story exists.

Movies don’t appear from the void, full-fleshed and glossy, on your TV or phone. Movies start with a script. And that script starts as a pitch. And that pitch starts as a single-sentence story called a logline. And all of that starts from an idea, an itch, an observation, an insight that crawled into the writer’s brain and buried itself like a tick in some secret unseen fold of thought.

Novels start as a core story, but so do chairs. So do lighting fixtures. So do a pair of shoes. The story may address concerns of use (must tuck under a desk of a certain height), or it might address concerns of ambition (must elicit a specific sense of glamour so that our customer might imagine herself as the person she hopes to become).

Sometimes we can articulate the story with ease. Other times we struggle to utter even the basics: subject, predicate. Other times we can’t bear to admit the true story that operates behind the scenes—either because we lack the emotional insight into the forces at work, or because we can’t face the pain or hope of our actual dreams.

Bend the arc of humanity’s progress or succeed in the pursuit of excellence in an area others might condemn to the plane of the mundane… do whatever you want… but design your own way forward.

Just know that design starts with story.

So what story will you tell?




Complements to the human condition.

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James Buckhouse

James Buckhouse

Design Partner at Sequoia, Founder of Sequoia Design Lab. Past: Twitter, Dreamworks. Guest lecturer at Stanford’s GSB &

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