Does Your Design Follow The Right Story?

A recent thread on my small business forum reminded me of the need for every business to tell a unique story and even more to make sure your design tells that same story in every detail. This is the principle of unity to it’s highest degree. It’s the whole being more than the sum of the parts. It’s what ultimately makes for the best designs.

Story teller sign surrounded by balloons

Tell Your Story

Every business needs to tell a story that aligns with the stories of the customers of the business. Your story answers the question of why you. Why should someone buy from you amidst all the other choices. Your story is what will hopefully convince people to buy from you because it matches their story about what they want in your product.

Below are some businesses and the story I think each is trying to tell.

  • Walmart — low cost convenience
  • Appleproducts that are beautifully designed and easy to use
  • Facebook — helping people communicate with each other
  • Google — organizing the world’s information
  • Copyblogger — content marketing advice and solutions that work
  • Whole Foods — healthier eating through natural foods
  • Nordstrom — providing the best customer service

There are plenty of stories you can tell and many that share common themes. Your story should be genuine and consistent. It should play to a market need or desire, but it should also come from you. You can only tell people a story about low cost and convenience if you can deliver both. If your stores are few and far between with little stock and high prices, good luck convincing people.

My own story these last few years is right up there by the logo — people friendly and search friendly web design. I chose to tell that story for a couple of reasons. Many of my clients let me know they work with me for my personality, which for some reason they take as friendly. I also understand search engines, probably a little more than the majority of freelance designers and tend toward designs that favor the usable.

Everything else I do arises out of that story, or at least tries to.

If you’re not sure how to craft your story watch this 18 minute presentation by Simon Sinek. His talk isn’t specifically about story, but it will show you where your story should ideally come from.

A storyboard

Your Design Should Follow Your Story

Whatever story your business is telling everything else should follow the script. From the way your site looks and functions to the copy you write for an ad in the local paper, everything should be telling the same story.

For example Nordstrom can’t tell a story about remarkable customer service unless they deliver on that promise and leave customers happy. They’ve famously offered refunds for items they don’t carry to reinforce their brand story. The money they lost on the single return was far outweighed by it fitting so well into the script.

Your story becomes your brand and the more you deviate from either, the less effective both will be. When it comes to design:

The questions you ask clients should be to help you understand their story so you can communicate it visually.

As I said above I’m trying to tell a story about people friendly and search friendly design. The script should lead to a site that:

  • Uses friendly and easily understandable language
  • Is easy to navigate
  • Is generally usable
  • Is quick to load
  • Is accessible
  • Does well generating search traffic
  • Blogs about topics like usability and seo in addition to design and development
  • Has a color scheme seen as friendly and approachable

I’d like to tell you that I nailed each of the above, though I know I haven’t. However I can tell you I made conscious decisions when I wrote the copy, chose the colors here, etc. I may not have always made the best decision, but I made decisions based on the story.

I also know I’ve let the site slip in a few areas over the years, quick loading being one. That leads to an inconsistent story. If the story becomes too inconsistent people won’t read till the end. I won’t be contacted for work.

Design decisions aren’t arbitrary. They should follow naturally from decisions made about the business. This is part of what it means to have content prior to design though I think that gets lost at times as we mainly think of content as the actual words and media that end up on the page.

Cover from Ghost Stories pulp magazine showing a woman scared by a ghost rising from a grave


When I think about the business advice I’ve offered and taken over the years it all comes down to choosing your story and then making decisions consistent with that story.

From understanding your market to differentiating yourself, it’s all about the story your brand tells. The best brands, the most successful businesses are those that tell a consistent story that resonates with a particular market.

When it comes to the design of your site or your client’s site you should be thinking about the story the business is telling first. Everything else has to follow the story’s lead.

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