Reporting vs Storytelling in Design

Reporting vs Storytelling in Design

Understanding the connection between story and design is one of my favorite (well, obsessive) activities, so I was all over John McWade’s recent Design Talk posting on this subject. McWade relates how the longevity of TV program 60 Minutes could be explained due to its founder’s guiding directive: “Tell me a story”. What does this have to do with design? EVERYTHING. He writes (emphasis mine):

You may say that you want your page/product/idea to “look good.” And, of course, looking good is preferable to looking bad. But what do you actually mean? What you should mean is that there’s a story to be told, and that your part is its visual expression. “Looking good” says blue and green go well together. The story is in what blue and green together say.

This is one of the most succinct write-ups I’ve seen on the topic, filled with quotable insights that you’ll want to post on your wall. And I think these ideas apply beyond visual design: pushing our thinking beyond ground-level “reporting and action” to the more stratospheric levels of “meaning and intent” gives us a more complete picture of the world with us living in it. And that understanding guides the tools in our hands so we can create fulfilling experiences that last beyond the fleeting first moments of surface attraction.

I think McWade neatly sums up the mechanics of creativity in this statement:

To leave the question unanswered is to begin a story. The reader’s engaged. He’ll look for what’s next. That’s what you want.

Check out the article. It’s a great read…so, so good.
» Tell me a Story on Before & After Magazine’s Design Talk blog.


  1. Nollind Whachell 11 years ago

    Great article indeed, particularly his followup comment.

    “…we are, literally, and without even realizing it, missing our own lives, the actual reason we do things. Results in a lot of vague (and unnecessary) emptiness.”

    This has definitely become more and more prevalent over the years. A few examples are visually amazing games with little or no substance to them, visually amazing movies with little depth or story to them, and visually amazing graphic and web design with little or no depth to it. Everything is visually entertaining but very little of it seems really engaging to us on a meaningful level (i.e. just filling the void or time).

    It’s kind of freaky because it’s almost as though life is imitating games now, particularly MMOs (i.e. grinding). And yet still in the midst of all of this emptiness, you can feel and hear this “hunger” below the surface for something more, for an opportunity to make a difference and change in the world, yet without the awareness or direction of what exactly to do.

    • Author
      Dave Seah 11 years ago

      Nollind: I think you’re on to something, regarding the “hunger” below the surface.

      There might be a story for every stage of life. When we’re kids, we’re looking for the story that opens us up to the possibility of adventure and self-control. As we become more capable and experienced in our own right, we look for stories that continue to give us insight and excitement in the way we need. Right now, a lot of people are bored, but not so bored that they want to upheave their lives or challenge their understanding of the world.

      And that’s fine. Most people aren’t consciously in search of meaning, I think, though they subconsciously need a certain level of it.