A design narrative is a story you want your product or service to tell. It's the "why" behind your design. A good design narrative will guide your entire design process and help you make decisions about everything from the overall look and feel to the minor details.
A strong design narrative can help keep users engaged and focused on achieving their goals. Design narratives can be helpful for all kinds of products and services. Still, they're essential for complex products requiring users to complete multiple tasks or navigate different screens.
Design narratives can take many forms, but they all share one common goal: to help users understand your product or service and how it can help them.
There are three main types of design narratives: origin stories, user stories, and brand stories. Below I will present them briefly and recall relevant examples of their use.
An origin story explains where your product or service comes from—its "origin," if you will. Origin stories usually start with a problem that needs to be solved or an opportunity that needs to be seized. They typically include a personal connection or motivation for why you're passionate about solving this problem. For example, Apple's origin story begins with Steve Jobs seeing a computer for the first time and realizing that he wanted to make them smaller and more accessible for everyone. Then there are several reasons you should think of your origin story as a story in progress.
Here are three great reasons to consider writing your own origin story.
Origin stories are the things that compel you to improve. It gives you a starting point that can't be found elsewhere.
You should create a clear roadmap for how you envision the future of your business and the journey you'll take to get there. A roadmap can only exist if you share it, so creating and sharing one will keep your vision top-of-mind.
You'll have a clear vision of the audience you want to reach and the difference your company will make. People connect with stories and often associate your idea with your company. You're just another company if you still need to get your narration.
So how do you make your story a part of your future?
1. Capture your internal dialogue
The first step is to capture all the internal dialogue you have about what it will take to make the change you want to see. Use your words and the word "should" to create a narrative describing your company's past, present, and future.
2. Write it down
Write it all down. That will help you clarify your direction and learn to identify the things you can and can't control. You'll also notice that the outcome you're writing about isn't just one thing; it's a series of smaller steps that lead up to your goal.
You can capture this internal dialogue in writing or list all your conversations. You'll probably have many of these conversations—most of them are as if you're looking in a mirror.
3. Work backward
Write down the problem you want to solve and the people or stakeholders you need to address. Then identify those people, projects, and other constraints that get in the way of your goal. Ask yourself, "Why is the solution so important?"
You're halfway to your goal.
So now you have the vision of where you want to go.
When you know the problem you're trying to solve and who you're trying to address it for, it becomes clear that the problem still needs to be solved. Rather than asking yourself why you can't change your current situation, you need to ask yourself, "Why do I need to change?"
That can helps you focus and prioritize your thoughts and actions. Think of it this way: Instead of avoiding the situation you're in, think about it as an opportunity to learn something.
Next, work backward to determine the steps that will get you there. Be as specific as possible about what you need to accomplish, who needs to be involved, and how you will achieve it.
User stories are all about your users—hence the name. User stories focus on how your product or service can help solve a problem or meet your users' needs. You must consider your target users and their specific needs when writing user stories. For example, Facebook's user story is "Stay connected with friends and family." This simple user story has been incredibly effective in helping Facebook grow into the largest social media platform in the world.
Create one, no more than two, user stories that address one specific need of your target audience. Make sure to note who the user is—your users—and what conditions are being addressed.
User stories allow you to illustrate the problem and what benefits users will experience once your solution has been introduced.
Finally, user stories are easily adaptable to change. They're your road map to achieving your goal. User stories are built to be reviewed and updated with all future development.
Don't Make User Stories Too Long
A user story should be brief yet expressive. Keep a high information level so it's easy to comprehend and understand. In the example below, we can figure out how the user can think and act in a particular situation.
User stories are designed to describe how your product will solve a problem or meet a need. These fundamental elements will keep users engaged and therefore help keep them engaged with your product.
Need: When users go to a specific location, they want to find what they're looking for. To this end, it's essential to include clear, realistic, and relevant details that assure users they are in the right place.
When users go to a specific location, they want to find what they're looking for. To this end, it's essential to include clear, realistic, and relevant details that assure users they are in the right place.
Reason: When a user tries to get in touch with someone or request action, they want to know why it's taking so long. Knowing the cause is annoying and frustrating for users.
Action: When a user can complete a task, they want to understand how and why it happened, along with their next steps. When a user tries to get in touch with someone or request some action, they want to know why it's taking so long. Knowing the reason is annoying and frustrating for users. Keeping them informed of your progress keeps them engaged and more likely to adopt your solution.
When a user can complete a task, they want to know how and why it happened, along with their next steps. Keeping them informed of your progress keeps them engaged and more likely to adopt your solution.
Result: Users want to know the outcome of whatever is taking them away from their daily routine. They will likely lose interest and abandon the task if they don't see immediate and apparent results.
User stories are a great way to gather the information you need to complete a project and see how it will impact users' lives. As you use them, you'll be able to gauge better whether your user story is clear, descriptive, and interesting enough to keep users engaged.
Brand stories communicate the values that guide your company or product. These values might include things like innovation, customer-centricity, sustainability, etc.
Tesla's brand story is centered around its mission to accelerate the world's transition to sustainable energy through electric vehicles. Brand stories are usually told through marketing campaigns or other public-facing efforts like website copy, PR materials, etc. But they can also be internal-facing, like company culture videos or employee onboarding materials.
Brand Story In Practice
Think about how the many different parts of a brand story fit together. At one end of the spectrum, you have a straightforward, stripped-down, or simple storyline. At the other end, you have an all-encompassing story with tons of complexities that must be unpacked for the average person. Mix and match these different elements, and your brand story will be more engaging to your customers.
That can be very different from traditional branding because when you want to tell a customer the full story of your company, you might have to take your time to get there, and there might be obstacles along the way. That's why it's more important than ever that you identify the main brand pillars of your company and build the brand story around them.
Start small, step by step, and execute your brand story. Then, get the team involved in choosing the right element and voice for your brand and everything else that goes into building a narrative.
Putting Together the Brand Story for Your Company
Once you've identified your brand pillars, you can take the next step and look at the research you did in the beginning stages. Do you know what it means to be sustainable or purpose-driven? And do you even have a brand story for that?
To figure this out, try to map out your brand story. What do you want your customer experience to be like? What will be your brand voice? How do you want to talk about your products and services?
Once this mapping process is in place, you can write your story. Do this periodically throughout the development of your company. That will be much more effective than tracking it in advance because you'll be more focused on getting your story done when making decisions and thinking about how to tell that story in the first place.
It would be best if you solidified your story early because the launch of your product or service is when the bulk of your efforts will be focused on developing your brand. If you want your company to succeed, you need to spend the time to do this work now. If you want your company to succeed, you need to spend the time to do this work now, which is especially important when you're choosing a name and logo as you want it to represent your brand.
Mix and Match
There are a few ways to create a company brand story that emphasizes your values, including using branded collateral to illustrate how you operate in line with your core values and how your product or service meets those values. For example, start a blog about your company culture or employee experiences to get employees to share their stories about what it's like to work at your company. Also, consider what kind of blogs, content, and social media content your company creates that goes beyond your company's core mission and purpose. Then, use these content pieces as part of your company brand story. Put these pieces together and highlight your company culture and values with a branded visual.
Using your narrative strategy to communicate your core values first is essential. Brand storytelling is an emotional appeal. Building a brand story starts with communicating values to customers, clients, employees, and investors. Once you have demonstrated a grand narrative, you can create marketing materials that share that story more artfully.
It would be best if you also thought about what brands you would like to emulate. You may have read about Nike, Google, or Apple, but if you want to be one of the best companies in the world, you need to give yourself enough time to create a brand story that embodies your unique identity.
Regardless of the type of design narrative you choose, remember that its purpose is to help users understand your product or service and how it can help them. A strong design narrative will make your product more engaging and easier to use—ultimately leading to happier customers (and better business results!).
So choose your design narrative wisely, and make sure it's one that you can stick to throughout the life of your product.
It can be tempting to play it safe when trying to come up with new product ideas or features.
Dreams are a big part of who we are. They inspire us to be better and to do more.