Over the last three years, I’ve worked with a number of designers who have great ideas, but struggle to get colleagues or potential backers to see the power of their vision. So if you’re a designer, how do you talk about your work effectively without falling back on blueprints or drawings?
The answer, not surprisingly, is pretty straightforward: tell a story.
To help you share compelling design stories, here are “5 Steps for Telling a Design Story” complete with an infographic (see below). Follow these guidelines and you’ll have yet another tool for amazing potential clients or fellow designers.
1. Start with Your Values
As designers know, good design starts with values, or core principles. The first step to articulating your values is to answer the question: What is the experience you want your end user to have of the product? Are you trying to achieve efficiency of space or economy of motion? Is the goal to save time or increase the number of clicks on a particular page? Start with a big idea (i.e. efficiency) and then break it down into its component parts (look, feel, etc). The clearer you are in answering these questions, the clearer you’ll be in articulating the overall journey, or experience, you’d like a potential reader, listener or user to have of your design.
2. Identify a Moment of Vulnerability
Since there are no shortage of vulnerabilities in the design world, this part is pretty easy. The challenge here is to try to find a moment where the failure hit a nerve on a personal level. To do this, identify a moment or experience in which the value you want your design to demonstrate (i.e. efficiency) was absent, and the impact that absence had on you. For example, if the experience you want people to have is about spatial layout, think about a time when you were jammed against a wall and couldn’t escape, or a time you created a space that had that same effect on someone.
Once you pinpoint the moment, take time to highlight each of the design failings (be specific!), how you reacted (be honest!), and any feelings you experienced, either in the moment or afterwards (make it personal!).
3. Demonstrate a Shift
After you’ve clearly identified a moment of vulnerability, outline how you responded. What did you do? Did you have any conversations about this design failing? Again, be specific about these conversations and actions. For example, after seeing a cabinet that was placed improperly, did you research and discover any trends in cabinet design? Did you share your experiences with your team? These moments and conversations will provide context for your listeners about both your solution and the design process. Many designers gloss over important details out of fear of bogging the audience down, but a detailed description of your response will actually draw people in by making design comprehensible. Again, be specific!
4. Present Your Solution
After you’ve created context for both the design vulnerability and outlined your response, walk the audience through your solution. This doesn’t need to be a complex breakdown of the idea (unless you’re speaking to fellow designers who want to hear it), but it does need to address the vulnerability identified in section 2 and the shift in part 3. Describe how the solution speaks to the initial problem and realizes the design value laid out in part 1.
5. End with a Call to Action
The final part of a good design story is to end with a compelling call to action. Your call to action should articulate what’s possible in this new, well-designed world. If you’ve already implemented your design solution, tell people what happened afterwards. Did the industry embrace your ideas? Did anyone offer praise or feedback? What became possible for users and designers in this new world? Did your solution provide secondary benefits that you didn’t initially anticipante?
If you haven’t implemented the solution yet, get people excited about the future (no more ATM’s in the sky!), and you’ll be amazed at the response.
How’s that for a design hack?