IXD304 – Week Ten: Storytelling in Design

Today in Kyle’s class, we had a guest lecture from the company Big Motive, featuring guests Rachel Orr, a content designer, and Pearse O’Neill, an interaction designer.

Big motive is a design and innovation studio. They collaborate with purpose-driven teams to create digital products and services that improve people’s lives.

What is storytelling in design?

Storytelling in design is how we communicate in projects. As humans, we have been storytelling for centuries. As designers, we have the opportunities to build stories in an empathetic way in order to build an emotional connection with users. As technology has advanced, our methods of storytelling have changed.

“You’re never going to kill storytelling because it’s built into the human plan. We come with it.” – Margaret Atwood

Aristotle’s 7 Elements of Storytelling

  1. Character
  2. Plot
  3. Dialogue
  4. Decor
  5. Melody
  6. Theme
  7. Spectacle

Character – Personas, mindsets and empathy maps. These tools help you to define your audience and think about their experiences, allowing you to gain empathetic insights for your designs. How you persona looks should come down to who the character is and what the project is, it doesn’t have to look the same every time.

Plot – Storyboarding and users journeys. Use storyboarding and user journeys to think about how your personas/mindsets navigate your designs. How does your design fit into the user’s routine, in a way that doesn’t overwhelm them? It allows you to see all the playing parts in one place, and see that plan and figure out where you can add into it.

Dialogue – Language and tone of voice. The language and tone of voice you use throughout your designs depends on the intended audience. It is important to make sure your designs feel relevant to them and language is a great way to do that.

Decor – Visual identity. Your design’s appearance is just as important as functionality. People have motional connections with branding and visual identities, they tend to gravitate towards something that they think looks good and relevant to them.

Melody – Positive emotion in the things we create. Does everything marry together like it was intended for your user, creating a positive emotion in the things we create. The goal is to ensure that when our products become part of a narrative they place a positive role.


Aflo is an app that connects with an existing physical product to help users keep track of their symptoms and medications for respiratory illnesses. They held workshops to think about their users, and create empathy maps for primary care teams and young adult uncontrolled asthma patients. In terms of creating a language, they needed somewhere in between formal and informal. They also needed to create a calming colour scheme, all to do with breathing and relaxing.

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