Storytelling plays a central role when creating effective content. Narrative makes complex information more digestible, relatable, and memorable. Storytelling enables us to view things from a new perspective, eliciting empathy and connection that, in turn, facilitate learning. We tend to reflect more on new ideas when we can understand the information easily and resonate with it emotionally. While storytelling seems like a copywriting device, the most successful design practices support this method, too. The impact of storytelling extends beyond obvious design elements such as color and imagery; its most significant influence lies within the fundamental structure of design.


The most basic goal of any brand is to capture (and hold) attention. The way to grab that attention is to be relatable and relevant. When we see an ad featuring someone who seems familiar (maybe they’re an alternate version of ourselves, a family member or a close friend) we’re more likely to connect to the narrative from our own personal experience. The way to retain attention is to stay relevant. Illustrate what real people experience in their everyday life, reflect on their culture and values — human nature will follow suit. It is important to evolve with shifting trends, because culture is always changing. Change and growth is human. Content and design should be modern and inclusive. Change is just as important as maintaining an existing reputation — change is good. As people evolve, so do their needs, and brands they depend on should evolve accordingly. Continually showing up for your audience is the best way to earn their loyalty.


For design, storytelling provides context for sharing information. Here is where we look beyond the initial promise from a brand. Context is the glue that allows new information to “stick.” Yes, your audience should understand that they will benefit from your product/service, but they’ll be more engaged if they understand how and why. Context comprises these basic elements: People, Places, Purpose, and Plot. 

PEOPLE: Think about the persona that represents your target audience. What are their needs, pain points, and values? 

PLACES: In what environment would they benefit from your service? This setting may be a geographical location, or a more abstract setting—like a place in their life. 

PURPOSE: What value do you offer, and how will this have a positive impact on them?

PLOT: How will you deliver to your audience? What actions need to take place? 

These elements make up the exposition in storytelling that are defined in messaging, but this also plays a pivotal role in design. Design uses visual language to create the narrative in a user-friendly manner. Good design is intuitive and makes it easy for people to find the important takeaways. This is how user-interface supports storytelling. Studies show that people typically spend about 53 seconds on a website (you read that right) It’s even shorter for a page, which is more like 2-5 seconds. In other words, our attention is short. By adding context to the messaging and design, we can capitalize on those fleeting seconds. Design is responsible for directing the user through content quickly and impactfully. Design guides this eye-brain journey with thoughtful execution of information architecture, navigation tools, motion, typesetting, imagery, color, interaction styling, and negative space. All of these pieces are carefully balanced to create an accessible and intuitive user-interface, making sure the audience retains the most valuable information. 

Design can also help act as a spotlight for unique value propositions, which may include special offers, case studies, statistics, pull quotes, or reviews. In terms of establishing a relatable narrative, including real people’s stories is valuable context. 


Coherent storytelling requires strategic use of information architecture. By adhering to rules of visual hierarchy, on a web page for example, designers guide the user’s eye through the content. Design can manipulate what order things will be seen, read, and interacted with. Trust your audience to navigate in a way that is right for them, make it easy for them to learn what they need rather than trying to convert at every turn. From a process view, this is leveraged most during the discovery, sitemap, and wireframe design. Sometimes these choices are obvious, as in which order content should be arranged in a design from top-to-bottom and left-to-right; but this is also very important within the minute details; like typeface weights, size, motion, and the balance of negative space. Jared Spool (founding principal of User Interface Engineering) said “Good design, when it’s done well, becomes invisible. It’s only when it’s done poorly that we notice it.” Design is problem-solving; good design resolves the 53-second-attention-span problem by quickly guiding the user through lots of material in a natural and coherent way. This is especially vital when designing for inclusion and creating an accessible interface for all users. 


We talked about how user-interface (UI) supports good storytelling; now let’s talk about the role of user-experience (UX). Apart from informing basic interaction and navigation (I can click this, I can type here, etc.) storytelling is also supported by the aesthetic style created by design. Colors can make users feel at ease, excited, or joyful; as well as stressed out, overwhelmed, or confused. Accessibility is an important component of these decisions, because a difficult-to-navigate design makes for a poor user-experience. However, great design is mindful of ranging human abilities. At its most creative, design is emotive. When empathy informs design it makes us feel something.

Be authentic. In a saturated market of brands, brands, brands, the best way to connect with an audience is to show character and integrity. We are going through daily life absorbing all kinds of media on screens— being advertised to at every blink. Being authentic through messaging and design cuts through the noise, manages expectations, and fosters trust. As previously mentioned, authenticity is reinforced by maintaining a focus on modern design trends (demonstrating growth and consciousness) but it is equally important to be consistent. We are more inclined to trust brands that prove dependable the same way we trust authentic people. In addition to cohesive messaging, personality, and customer service, all design elements should harmonize together. Storytelling is a human-centered approach. Proof of stability is one way to show social responsibility and equity. This will ensure your message is impactful and memorable. We can all tell the difference between being spoken with versus talked at. 

Authentic design choices will feel personal, created by real people and for real people. Forget the typical sales pitch taglines placed atop a posed stock image – we all know how ineffective that is. It is important to be deliberate with photography, representing the people you care about, using the language they speak with, and setting the tone of the conversation you want to have with them. When people feel seen, they will pay you back with attention and loyalty.  


Ultimately, the common goal of design is to inspire some form of action, whether it’s making a purchase, signing up for a service, or supporting a cause. Storytelling can motivate viewers to take action by appealing to their emotions, values, and aspirations. Humans are wired to remember stories more effectively than isolated facts. While embedding key messages within a narrative framework, visual design can make the content more navigable, memorable, and impactful. The best experiences leave a lasting impression. This will set you apart in the crowd of competitors. Leave an indelible impression on your audience and they will be sure to promote your success. Their loyalty is invaluable, as is their enthusiasm to recommend you to others. 


Successful design understands its audience, creates an effortless journey through content, at a digestible rate, with meaningful context, peppered with relatable and interesting details along the way. By leveraging storytelling in your strategy, you can feel confident in creating memorable experiences that leave a lasting impression. Storytelling inspires audiences by offering genuine experiences and insights that resonate with their own lives, aspirations, and concerns. In a world where trust is a rarity and scams abound, authentic content serves as a beacon of integrity, providing reassurance and guidance amidst a sea of superficial marketing practices.