Storytelling through smart design

  • Opinion
  • April 20, 2017
  • Kate Snushall
Storytelling through smart design

Storytelling is the most powerful way to put ideas into the world today." – Robert McKee.

There is no denying that people are being overloaded with content and information in both their personal and professional lives. On a daily basis, we’re exposed to hundreds of marketing messages, emails, articles, pieces of video content, and social media messages, and there is no sign that this tidal wave of information will ebb anytime soon. So it is becoming increasingly important that design breaks through the clutter and deliver the story that people want to hear.

The very definition of design is starting to broaden. To anticipate the market needs of tomorrow, new careers are forming and the role of design in the creative process is shifting. Businesses are positioning design as a valuable part of their operations. No longer is design seen as a department to be bought in at the end of a project to ‘tidy things up and make it look good’. Instead, there is a new recognition that real value is added when design is included from the start and throughout a project.

Design-thinking is now seen as a key driver of innovation and has permeated the mindset of business leaders and marketers. Design-thinking keeps the user at the heart of the experience, and has seen powerful results in applications ranging from designing the culture of a business to product concepts and streamlining business processes.

At the heart of this shift is design’s ability to tell a story in a way that resonates with the end user – whether that be a client, employee or customer. This is the focus of TRA’s own design team, as we constantly strive to present our insights in a way that is meaningful, useful and relevant to our clients. And in the end, what is an insight if not a story?

New technology demands a new way of telling stories

Technology has changed the way we absorb information – it has sped the process up, made things more interactive, and visual images now battle to gain our attention as we walk down the street or scroll through our newsfeeds. Design that was dominated by text now features bold imagery, and video content has become our preferred medium for consuming content – hardly surprising, as most people find visual content the easiest to absorb.

Just as the internet has seen an increase in moving content (i.e. not static, though emotionally moving works too!) so has insight design. Although static graphics are by far the most common medium because they are easy to create and host, our team are enjoying working with new styles of interactive design. Enabled by tech developments, we can display multiple layers of data in a single interface while providing an engaging and dynamic user experience for the viewer.

In line with the growth of visual and interactive content, we’ve seen the rise of animated infographics. In the race to catch viewers’ attention amidst the chaos of messages, motion graphics present an eye-catching and visually stimulating way to display information – the more provocative the better.

Visual channels are a natural storytelling medium. At TRA our insight design is benefiting from the trend towards highly visual content. There are many creative and useful ways we can now bring the customer into the heart of our client’s business. And with a huge amount of rich data being made available to us, the ability to interpret and manage that data both accurately and meaningfully, and tell the resulting story to our clients, has never been more important.

Looking into the future of insight design

As with most industries, technology will continue to change the way we operate. New developments in the design space will keep us on our toes as we constantly seek innovative ways to gain the attention of increasingly busy people.

People’s lives will undoubtedly revolve more and more around their smart devices, but in opposition to this we will continue to see an undercurrent pulling people towards experience and personalisation – see the articles in this issue on foodie-ism and the stationery movement for more on this. With this will grow the demand for seamless and personal mobile experiences, in which design will play a crucial role.

Similarly, the use of data visualisation in real-time is ready for growth and increased tracking of social analytics creates opportunities for this. Our clients will want to see what topics are trending and what people are saying in real-time – see the article on social conversations for why this will be so crucial to a brand’s success in the digital space. Brands will be monitoring, tracking and measuring their social presence on the web and they will want this viewed in a well-designed, easy to use interface.

As designers we will need to have an understanding of not only two-dimensional design, but also animation, illustration, motion graphics, and web-based programmes – and must be ready and agile to move with the changes rushing towards us.

But what remains constant – despite changing technology, techniques and channels – is design’s role in communicating a story. We need people to feel the story in the data, not just rationally understand it, and in this the potential of great design to engage an audience is unlimited. 

Kate Snushall is the head of design at TRA.

This article was originally published in The Cultural Intelligence Issue of TRA's Frame publication.

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