Design Story
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Design Story


Four types of business stories

Learn to write each one

Your business needs four different types of stories, each with a very different function. Learn how to write all four.

Story 1: Pitch to investors
Story 2: Organize your internal team
Story 3: Guide the press
Story 4: Give people a reason to care

Story 1: Investor pitch

VCs and angels don’t invest in a particular technology; they invest in people who exude creative potential combined with an urgency to solve a hard problem with a new approach. Your pitch should demonstrate both.

Pitch potential investors with a short, cogent, and elegant solution. Reduce your idea to four-words or less. Make it repeatable and distinct.

For instance, a new startup trying to break into green power mini-auctions might think of itself as a mash-up of different models. Instead of saying “we’re the Napster of green power” which might or might not resonate with a potential investor—it might try:

“Peer-to-peer green power auctions.”

In Hollywood, this short-hand sentence is called the “log line.” The log line passes from writer to producer to studio exec as the initial step before anyone agrees to read the actual script. Your Tweet-length one-liner must stand in for your whole creative idea; a bad log line can sink a show.

Just like in Hollywood, your full idea won’t get reviewed until you’ve passed the glance test of a log line. Re-read “Tell a four-word story” to get an idea of how to write one for your startup.

Once you devise a good pitch, your job is not done. Next, your story needs to shift to help your internal team, press, and consumers understand the value of your efforts.

Story 2: Internal team

You need a second story that works as an internal fulcrum around which your team can stress-test business decisions. For a long time, Google’s “Organize the world’s information…” did this very well. Engineers at Google had a general guideline for what success at the company looked like.

Try the four-word story method to create four-word stories at the company, department, team, and individual level.

Example Peer-to-Peer Green Power, Inc.

Company—Green power for everyone
Design Team—Instant information, better decisions
Team member, Eunice Ives—Better demand meter alerts

Employee Eunice can describe what she’s currently doing (and why she’s doing it) by walking backwards up the chain of stories. She knows her role on her team, her team’s role in the company, and her company’s role in the planet.

They add up to a unified job-story that Eunice can repeat to co-workers, friends, her manager, and herself.

“I’m designing new demand meter alerts to help our customers make better decisions through instant information. And we do all of this to one day bring accessible green power to everyone, anywhere.”

Story 3: Press

For press, you need a suite of micro-narratives—such as a privacy story or a growth story—that address the current climate of concerns. Sometimes these stories can also work towards consumer goals to help explain how your product fits into a larger cultural landscape. Other times these stories work to reframe issues to match a company’s core values or goals.

I found this in my sketchbook from a MarComm meeting.

A company’s blog tells only part of the press story. The rest lives in off-the-record conversations with press, on-the-record comments, executive briefing notes, executive speeches, product copy, app-store descriptions, and even support-team responses in customer care.

Story 4: Give people a reason to care.

Finally, you need a story that gives people a reason why they should care. This is your consumer story. Skip the features and the stats. Forget the app updates and the improved functionality. Instead, address a fundamental human need.

Like this one. Or this one. Or this.

Storyboards for

Tell fun stories, poignant stories, scary stories or goofy stories—but above all, tell a human story. Skip the technical details. Instead, show us how to be a better people.

Press, internal, and investor stories do not entice people to love your product. A few of these stories may look like consumer stories (particularly press stories written by a reporter who writes from the point of view of consumer benefits, or investor stories that focus on a human need), but none of them do the right kind of work on behalf of the potential user. You must write a specific story that shows people a better life.

Also, if your product doesn’t actually make people’s lives better, work to change your product, change your company, or find a different job.




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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