Forget About Storytelling, Design is About Short Messages

“Storytelling” is a word I loathe when describing design. But, I think it might often be used as a synonym of what I think works in design, which is short messages. Though someone who uses “storytelling” and I who choose “messages” might be talking about the same concept, I believe “messages” is a better choice of words.

There is no doubt that graphic design is visual communication. Our graphic choices made within a composition all “say” something on their own by constructing a visual voice, personality, or mood. By doing this, many people say they are creating stories in their designs but, stories are complex with many different characters, a plot, sub-plots, various settings, a beginning, middle, end, maybe a narrator; there is a lot going on and I don’t believe stories exists well within design.

Design (especially branding) to me, is about a very focused message. Coca-Cola is about “spreading happiness” and Nike is about “taking action” as their infamous tag-lines suggests. Everything these brands do revolves around that.

Sure, every company or product has a story, a nice background, and maybe something really interesting about how it came to be, but there’s no room for all of it in a single piece of design. You have to pull the things you want to communicate the most and express that. An entire brand identity should be about expressing core ideas to the world.

There’s no time for stories anyway, people’s attention spans are too short to get the whole thing and they don’t care either. Not until they’re sucked in and really start to make the brand a part of themselves.

I’m certain there is no way to “tell a story” in a logo — a logo is a beacon from the brand’s lighthouse to guide the audience in. It’s not trying to be the map and town signage, just 1 simple marker. Logos are best when they are expressing a single thought. To go back to Coke and Nike, that’s how their logos are built too: “Americana” and “motion”. It’s a snapshot of the full story.

I’ve never heard anyone explain exactly what they mean by storytelling in design, and maybe their definition wouldn’t be too far from what I’ve laid out here. But, I can’t help but cringe at the phrase. I’m not interested in “finding the story”, I’m interested in finding one idea to express a simple message. At least, that way of thinking works best for me.

brandon moore