The Power of a Design Story

The Power of a Design Story

There is a veritable power in meeting other people. What an opportunity to travel and work with a diverse crowd. Diversity is an inspiration of its own. We all have the language in common.

Language is the capacity of Men to express and communicate with each other.

For all the rash apprentice, the art of communication welcomes him with an abyssal depth. The broadness of this unique art form is mesmerising. Verbal to non-verbal, oral to written, scholar to redneck, are only some of the many ways culture will infuse itself everywhere when it comes to communicating with each other.

As designers, we are in the business of designing value. Who has to do what, when and why? These are some of our research questions.

E.g. Clara has to book a hotel room, next week, for the family holiday. What is the experience on the website? How painful or easy can it be? Is it going to be a premium experience? Will she be welcomed with a small cocktail? Is she blind? Therefore requires assistance on the website and in the hotel?

Many well-known recipes – like the double diamond – will assist us on the path to resolution. Have you also had to endure endless presentations, where you have some solutions, unable to convey the answers to the rest of your stakeholders? It seems like we all have been there at some point, with a great concept struggling with how to transmit our passion, energy, and thought process.

As a concept designer at BNPPF, shaping a story is part of my daily routine. Long before going into solution and providing answers, I craft a story. For the audience to relate, the story needs to have data, be on point and have the acceptance mark of all my stakeholders. The ultimate goal is to onboard all the colleagues on the same vision, on a story that delights our customers.

Everywhere we look, we can see stories. The overwhelming number of advertisement and content platforms whisper to us that we all have something to share, something to tell. Our over-connected daily lives encourage us to create and narrate our own stories. The social media paradigm evolves around that core idea. Some have even pushed it to the letter like Facebook with their Stories.

”Stories are a great way to connect with your audience and share content between your scheduled video posts, with photos and short videos.” (1)

Does that make us specialists in stories? Our childhood memories abound from the recollection of stories. Men's history can be retraced thanks to stories:

  • 100.000 years ago, we started developing our language. It is sound to say that we began using storytelling to transfer our knowledge.
  • 27.000 years ago, we started transferring knowledge from generation to generation through cave paintings.
  • 3.500 years ago, we started transferring knowledge through text.
  • 35 years ago, PowerPoint was born.(2)

Joke aside, 1987 can well be the birth of the visual language as we know it now.

In 2020, Netflix users watched an average of 3.2 hours of video per day through the service⁠. By extension, it is fair to assume that we have all seen more than a few movies and tv shows. We have watched countless stories unfold before our eyes and ears.

Our brain has adapted to that methodology. Stories might be our way of trying to understand the world around us, how we create bonds and make each other laugh. It is part of our DNA.(3)

We are all born with a natural talent to listen to stories, but we also have a storyteller in us. Let's leverage that inner knowledge to figure out a thing or two on how to craft a good story for our design.

About three months ago, I received a message from a recruiter on Linkedin. It goes like that: "I've found the best job offering for you. When I received it, I directly thought of you and had to get in touch. It is one of the most interesting job offers that comes my way in a long time, maybe even my career!"

My curious mind is hooked. I want to know more! In the next few days, over a short call, I learned that, the company he is recruiting for is an "innovative management solution for the poultry industry". From my understanding, they have a bunch of sensors to monitor the health and condition of the poultry. In other words, they gather all sorts of data, to make them grow better, faster, and stronger. The recruiter was not aware, that I am a vegetarian. I decline it, as I won't be able to care enough to do a good job and go on day after day.

Don't be clever. Be vulnerable and honest.

To be able to relate to a topic, you'll have to put in the time and effort. It will take your energy. You'll have to care. You won't be able to defend your customers or users if you are not passionate or unable to relate to their experiences.

Use what you know. Draw from it. Capture a truth by researching it and experiencing it. Express the values you feel deep down in your core. Once you have honed your piece, make your stakeholders care. Emotionally, intellectually, and aesthetically, just make them care. Our work will only make it into a product if we can get our stakeholders to care and commit. Without commitment, any advice given is merely the expression of opinions.(4)

Andrew Stanton states: “Storytelling is joke-telling! It's knowing your punch line, your ending, knowing that everything you are saying, from the first sentence to the last, is leading to a single singular goal, and ideally confirming some truth that deepens our understanding of who we are as human beings.”(5)

Let's picture yourself in your favourite theatre, ready to watch a movie. Once upon a time, you have a character, a place and a mood. You get yourself acclimated to the narrative. The first few scenes will give you some context.

From the animation movie industry comes "The unifying theory of 2 + 2".(1) The gist is pretty simple, make the audience put things together. Don't give them 4. Give them 2 + 2.

Make the audience put things together. Let them work. Create momentum, and slowly guide them to the big reveal. The element you provide and the order you place them in is crucial to whether you succeed or fail at engaging the audience. It's the invisible application that holds our attention to the story. It is not an exact science. That's what's so special about stories. They are not a widget. They aren't exact. They are not predictable.(2)

Your stakeholders are the same as you on that sofa. They want an introduction to the subject, the work you have done, the research you have completed, the reasons why you get into that research, and what the key results are.

Before even thinking about showing a glimpse of your design, or your solution, lay the path for your stakeholder to follow you on that journey. Create an understanding of who is the audience of the project and what their struggles are.

But, hold on a minute. Don't rush into your newly found passion, we still have to talk about one last topic. Let's turn our attention to the people you will be discussing with. Let's talk about stakeholder management.

Stakeholder Management includes the process required to identify people, groups, or organisations that could impact or be impacted by the project, to analyse stakeholder expectations and their impact on the project, and develop appropriate management strategies for effectively engaging stakeholders in project decisions and executions.(6)

A. Get to know who you are talking with

As it might evolve, regularly, identify your project stakeholders. Document the relevant information regarding their interests, expectations, involvements, interdependencies, influence and potential impact on project success. Make sure you have a clear view between the organisational goals, department goals and project goals.

  • Everyone who pays for the project;
  • Everyone who provides the resources you need;
  • Everyone who will receive the deliverables the project produces;
  • Everyone who signs off on the project, or the completion of stages or phases;
  • Everyone who is a subject matter expert;
  • Everyone who may be impacted by the project;
  • Everyone who is responsible for key dependencies;(7)

B. Develop your relationship with them

Once you have identified your stakeholders, it is time to know what drives them. Develop the communication bridge, improve your relationship, earn trust and establish rapport. Trust must be earned and deserved. You must do something to give the other people the evidence on which they can base their decision on whether to trust you.

C. Adapt your message

Being a good communicator does not mean dumping every piece of information possible. A strong communicator communicates the most critical information pieces at a summary level, along with more detailed information as required for stakeholders to make decisions.(8)

Wherever possible, you want to meet or exceed your stakeholder’s expectations. Communications are no exception. You should regularly communicate progress. If they have stated personal objectives, and you do not address them, you have failed in the end from their viewpoint. The smaller you can make the gap between delivered value and expected value, the more successful you are. To close this gap, you must tailor your communications to address these stakeholder-specific expectations.

  • Whenever possible, have face-to-face meetings to continue building your business relationship. Phone or video meetings are also a viable option. Try to avoid relying solely on written communication
  • Make sure there are no surprises. You do not want your key stakeholders to hear about issues from someone other than you. Raise the point as soon as possible, especially if action or decisions need to be made.
  • Make your communications purposeful. If you communicate only important information, your stakeholders pay attention when you talk or send correspondence. If you provide too much information, they may start to tune you out, which is not a good thing. These power stakeholders are busy-help them do their job by pointing out the highlights and areas where they need to be concerned or involved. Do not talk just to talk.

In the end, everything you will hear and see in your day, 5% will be remembered. By wrapping your story around an experience, an event, or a moment, you increase that figure to 65%. When you can wrap your story around an experience, people will remember it.

It applies to the written story, but also the visual story. Visual storytelling is how we communicate today. Push your stakeholders to the edge of their seats, and make them excited about what is gonna happen next in the story. Create anticipation.

You design the value, but you are selling emotion to your stakeholders. They will remember how you make them feel.


  1. Facebook documentation for business
  2. From the video
  3. Nathaniel Drew - [[How to Tell Better Stories - What I've learned ▶️]]
  4. Andrew Stanton is the author and director behind Wall-E & Finding Nemo amongst many others -
  5. The magical science of storytelling by David JP Phillips.
  6. Baugh, A., Stakeholder engagement: The game changer for program management (2015)]
  7. Project Management Institute, A guide to the project management body of knowledge – PMBOK guide (2017)
  8. Strategy and stakeholder management -
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