Telling the Design Story
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Telling the Design Story

Effective and Engaging Communication

Amy Huber

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  1. 243 pages
  2. English
  3. ePUB (mobile friendly)
  4. Available on iOS & Android
eBook - ePub

Telling the Design Story

Effective and Engaging Communication

Amy Huber

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About This Book

When presenting projects in competitive design environments, how you say something is as important as what you're actually saying. Projects are increasingly complex and designers are working from more sources, and many designers are familiar with the struggle to harness this information and craft a meaningful and engaging story from it.

Telling the Design Story: Effective and Engaging Communication teaches designers to craft cohesive and innovative presentations through storytelling. From the various stages of the creative process to the nuts and bolts of writing for impact, speaking skills, and creating visuals, Amy Huber provides a comprehensive approach for designers creating presentations for clients. Including chapter by chapter exercises, project briefs, and forms, this is an essential resource for students and practicing designers alike.

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Part 1 Storytelling in Design: A Primer

Defining our stories.


This chapter will focus on why we like stories and provide a storytelling primer.
Olivia could sense the growing antipathy with each passing word. “Our firm is so well-equipped to handle the design of your library,” she thought to herself. And she had good reason to; the numbers were good; they had compiled a qualified team and created a detailed action plan. They had even received several accolades for a similar project. When discussing these merits, however, she saw the board of trustees looking at their phones; some were even whispering to each other. So, she paused, and said, “Let me give you an example.” As she told her story, she could see several of the board members put down their phones, lean in, and start to listen more intently.
Her story had changed the entire mood of the room.


Campfires, water coolers, dinner tables – storytelling occurs in many places and across many cultures. From Aesop’s Fables to the Trojan Horse, the most enduring stories are handed down from one generation to the next. In fact, many of today’s films are rooted in classic works. Skywalker’s triumph over the evil Darth Vader is likened to the hero’s journey of ancient Greek mythology. Bridget Jones’ endearing quest for love is a modern telling of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Stories can be a potent delivery tool; some even argue that they are the most powerful and enduring art form.1
Whether to a client, teacher, or supervisor, a designer’s role is often to convince another party that they hold the key to the best possible solution. So, whether we like it or not, design is steeped in the art of salesmanship – and stories can help “seal the deal.”


To paraphrase marketing expert Jonah Sachs, the capacity to spark change and provide inspiring solutions stems from our ability to provide great stories.2 With more ways to reach an audience, it can actually be harder to move them. The best storytellers can use their craft to cut through the distractions of everyday life. Their stories act as an affective primer, steering the emotions of their audience toward the desired course of action.
As designers of products, spaces, and experiences, we too can use the art of storytelling to shape the emotions of our audience prior to sharing our ideas. If we want to empower our client to take a radical new approach, we can share a story that calls them to action. If we want our clients to be dissuaded from making a bad decision, a story highlighting another company’s similar missteps can be a very powerful deterrent.
Stories can serve as a moral guidepost or as a quick and vivid means of sharing information, selling lifestyles, sparking change, or inspiring others.3 But to harness their power, we need to understand their potential in design communication.
Master storytellers use their craft to convince their audiences of their own world-view.


Since designers are called to both inform and persuade their audiences, many parallels can be drawn between design communication tactics and contemporary marketing strategies. The best marketing campaigns are thought to contain three ingredients: Meaning, Explanation, and Story.4 These ingredients help ensure that a message is relevant, understood, and captivating.
Consider these ingredients in the design communication tactics below:
Report Presentation Video
Goals Notify or Update Simplify, Clarify, or Illuminate Illuminate or Entertain
Delivery Precise & Exhaustive Believable & Credible Express & Introduce
Results Informed Audience Motivated Audience Moved Audience
Example Case Study Design Presentation Online video


Stories are often considered essential to the human experience. In fact, storyteller Kendall Haven refers to our species as Homo narratus.5 There are several theories as to why we are so drawn to stories.6
The first theory is that stories are simply a byproduct of human existence. Supporters of this premise suggest that our brains are not designed to enjoy stories, but that they are susceptible to being seduced by them. The second theory is that our attraction to stories has been ingrained in our DNA via chance evolutionary adaptations. The third theory suggests that stories were a survival tool.7 This final proposition may be surprising since stories do not outwardly seem to satisfy the fundamental needs of our hunter-gatherer ancestors (e.g., food, water, & procreation), although cave paintings suggest that our ancient ancestors used stories to recount life-altering experiences. A story about an epic hunting adventure, for example, provided lessons about which animals would make for a good dinner (and maybe even which would want them for dinner). At the same time, the storyteller likely appeared more attractive by showcasing the skills and qualities that would make for an ideal mate.


Over time, stories became more complex, in turn, serving more purposes. As our societies advanced (and our survival became more secure), our stories no longer had to be grounded in facts. Our ancestors grew to love the intense drama and suspense made possible only by fictionalized stories. These stories p...

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