Storytelling in Graphic Design

with
Ellen Lupton

You can also watch this interview on my YouTube channel

Table of Contents

  1. Action
  2. Emotion
  3. Sensation

*PS. Below you will find an auto-generated transcript of this episode.

Introduction

Ellen Lupton:
As designers, we often get stuck in our point of view, rather than point of view of the people using what we create.

Arek Dvornechuck:
‍
What's up branding experts, Arek Dvornechuck here at Ebaqdesign. And my guest is Ellen Lupton and Ellen is a designer, writer, educator and curator. So Ellen is a senior curator of contemporary design at Cooper Hewitt and Smithsonian Design Museum in New York City and the Director of the Graphic Design MFA program at MICA, which is Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore. And she also received a AIGA gold medal for Lifetime Achievement in 2007. So Ellen has authored and co-authored numerous books on design, including: How Posters Work, Beautiful Users, Graphic Design, Thinking With Type and the more. And of course her book Design is Storytelling... this book right here. This is the book we are going to talk about today. So Ellen is an expert when it comes to demonstrating the power of stories in graphic design. And that's why I really wanted to have her on our podcast to talk about storytelling in graphic design. Ellen, thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us on our podcast.

Ellen Lupton:
Thank you. ‍

Arek Dvornechuck:
So... first of all, for our listeners, I wanted to say that the book is a great resource for all types of designers, graphic designers, but not only. So if you're listening and you want to amplify the, not as part of your work out there, you're recommended to check out this book. I do like how Ellen present us with different tools and techniques, and there are beautiful illustrations you guys can see. So it really makes it interesting to go through and read the content of the book. And it also shows us a lot of examples so we can understand the concept behind it. Okay. So the premise of the book is that co-design is just like good storytelling. It brings ideas to life, right? So whether we design an app or a page layout or a website, we actually invite people to enter a scene and lead them on a dynamic journeys. Right. So basically you teach us how to use not active techniques to create better graphics and better products and experiences. ‍

1. Action

Arek Dvornechuck:
Okay. So in your book you categorized all these tools into and techniques into three acts, right: Auction, Emotion and Sensation. So let's talk a bit about each of them and how some of the key tools. Okay. Sure. Okay. So the first art, which is action is all about patterns that underlined stories, right? So for our listeners think designing the experience of unboxing, our gadgets, for example, opening a bank account and so on. So even a book, he would say, quote design is an art of thinking ahead and taking possible futures. So can you talk to us about this first act about action and perhaps you can give us some of the key tools and techniques that you described here.

‍Ellen Lupton:
‍
Sure. So every story has action, right? A story. Is that just describing the castle? It's what happens inside the castle, right? The people fighting the war, the famine, right? The action. And that's what people remember about a story is what happens. And action can be something very big, right? So an epic poem or 10 episodes of a Netflix show is a very big action with lots of parts or an action can be very small. So like pushing a button on a website is an action. That's very quick a micro action, but just like a bigger story arc, that action has to have the sense of beginning, middle, and end. It has to have the invitation to do right. The invitation to enter the physical and emotional experience of actually pushing the button. And then the sense of completion, right? The feedback that something is finished. And so we can talk about stories as having an arc. And this is a way that novelists and filmmakers talk about crafting a narrative that the arc starts at a low energy point. You have a Giro who's invited to solve a problem, or find something achieved, something that is difficult and the action builds and it comes to a peak. And then the hero goes down the other side to a point of conclusion. So it's a little bit like a roller coaster. And if you think about being on a roller coaster and you start low and you're dragged up the side of the hill and you're literally physically building energy, the higher you get the more energy in the car of the roller coaster. Oh, and you get to the top, it's a climax and it's something that you have anticipated. And then all that energy is released. And the satisfaction of coming down the other side of the mountain. And so, and, and design, we have to think about the interactions of users or someone looking at a poster or looking at the cover of a book and having that sense of entering being satisfied, right. Experiencing what the message or promise of a service or communication is. And then feeling that satisfaction of finishing that is really the essence of every story is that shape of beginning, middle, and

Arek Dvornechuck:
Right. So it's a narrative arc, right? That starts with exposition and raising and falling action. And conclusion we'll talk about in the introduction will the design of stride. And this is really funny because I remember my experience in Atlantic city and I can definitely relate to that. So when, when the reading about that, I remember that experience. So you go out right, as you said, we are building all of this energy and there is also a suspension at the peak. So you don't know what is going on. And I remember also in this car that the music, sometimes it goes off, for example, the whole concept designers can design the experience in that way so that we may think, am I going to die? Something going wrong here. So it's like even more dramatic. Yeah. So when you get to the top and you think what's going to happen, I'm going to slide back down. Or there is like a moment of suspension. So some of the key takeaways from this part is not a big Arctic, which is up and down. Part of that starts with an exposition arising in the point oxygen, and then ends in a conclusion, right? And then you also gave us different tools like [inaudible], which is basically a circle or pattern that starts with a call to action. And then to have a guide who house the hero, right? And then usually it ends in a new place or a transformation of the hero or something like that. Then also you talk about storyboard, which is basically telling stories with sequence of images, rule of threes. So he designed his life to grow things into three steps. And usually the last one is more of a surprise and breaks the Potter. We have also scenario planning, which is tool for telling stories about the future. So imagining all the possible scenarios that can happen. And you also talk about design fiction, which is, you know, making some speculative designs or prototypes to anticipate future tense. Let's talk about the second act, which is emotion here. You explore how design plays with our feelings and moods and associations, right? So it took about how designers to build empathy with users to create solutions that enhance it allies. So can you just speak to that? How do design in order to tap into people's emotions and feelings? That's

2. Emotion

Ellen Lupton:
A great question. So if you think about great storytelling, a great movie, a great novel, these things affect us emotionally. We're not just interested in what happened and why we're actually interested in the characters and their investment in the story. And what typically happens when you watch him and B is that you become the characters, you have empathy with the hero. And sometimes the hero is a despicable person like Walter White in breaking bad, right? Not someone that you want to have be your friend, but the storytelling actually brings you into his world and into his perspective. And you end up rooting for the bad guy. And that's part of this magical flap of storytelling. And as designers, we often get stuck in our point of view, as the designer, rather than thinking about the point of view of the people using what we create. And so that idea, empathy of making that flip into the perspective of another person is a really powerful tool for designers. And it's part of design thinking methodology. Co-design participatory. Design is all about bringing that user's perspective into the work that you do. And it's really an idea that comes from our most ancient art forms of storytelling, where we enter the perspective of another person. So that's really important. And there are tools for mapping people's emotional experience with the product. And this really comes out of literature as well. The idea that in a story there's rising and falling action, but there's also rising and falling emotional there's periods of joy where everything's going great. But the story where everything's great, it's very boring, right? You need to have conflict and loss and uncertainty that half the story keep going.

Arek Dvornechuck:
‍
We are going to take a quick break here, but we'll be right back. Listen. My mission is to help people build and design I claim brands. So whether you're a business leader who wants to become more intentional with branding and all of its aspects, or you're a creative professional who wants to attract powerful clients and surely be able to help them with branding, then you need to start with a discovery session in order to develop a strategy that will inform all your creative work and everything that you need in order to learn how to do that. You can find in my online courses@evacdesign.com slash show, where I share with you, my worksheets, case studies, video tutorials, and all the additional resources to help you feel safe and strong about your process. Now let's get back to our interview.

Ellen Lupton:
‍
It's a little different because we really don't want our users to suffer and have pain while using our product. So designers create emotional journey maps to anticipate where it will be those emotional lows. What are people going to experience that they don't like? For example, when will I get my COVID 19 vaccine? Right. All the waiting. So how do you turn the activity of waiting into an opportunity for learning something new or being entertained while you wait having an explanation for what you're waiting for? That's why loaders on websites make it look like, well, something's happening in the background and you are a data being processed and prepared, and it takes away that uncertainty of like, did it break? Are they still paying attention to me? Have I been abandoned here? And so that was kind of tools are really empathizing with the user and making sure that they're kind of carried along in an emotional story.

Arek Dvornechuck:
So give us a, [inaudible] using emojis using color and emotion. Can we talk about some, maybe, maybe following an emotion? I think that would be really interesting personas. That's something that I think a lot of designers can relate to

Ellen Lupton:
As well. I think color, we sometimes think of color. It's being an aesthetic choice. I like blue. You like red, you know, these are our favorite colors, but colors also carry an emotional weight. And so the color blue is often used for healthcare or banking, right? And it feels clean. It feels authoritative and that's related to blue being used in flags and sort of official communication, but blue can also be associated with the blue stealing low, right. And it's a color that we think of as cold, even though it has no physical temperature. We think of it as a cold color. And we think of yellows and oranges as red colors. So as designers, we make choices about color that can relate to the symbolic importance of a color, but also to associations, people have with colors being related to peelings, feelings of love or feelings of loneliness. For example, the smiley face is always yellow and there's this historic connection between yellow and happiness and making things bright and sunny and Pathi, but yellow also means danger. So it has, depending on your context, you can play into these more symbolic, official meanings of a color, and they've sort of softer emotional association. I think it's great as designers to think more intentionally about how we use color to think about what kind of fat you're trying to get. And that means thinking about users and thinking about how will they respond, what is their feeling going to be when they enter a room that's all yellow or is the handle on a tool, but it's yellow, which often means, you know, danger and caution and visibility, right? Making something easy to see.

Arek Dvornechuck:
I think what's really interesting here. You guys can check this. So for example, here you break down what thread color actually means and can mean many different things, depending on where you live basically. Right? So in our Western 30 towers can mean loss of sexual maturity in Greek mythology is smartest, God of war and so on in China, for example, China, India, Nepal is brighter wide, right? So it can mean fire. It can mean blood. It can mean love adventure in Korea, and it is a color of Coca-Cola. So I really explored here in this part, you know, me of color and how to use color, right to our offenders, to be more intentional, as you said, in everything we design, how about we talk about persona? I think this is quite interesting. I think this is one of the key tools from this part and just pertaining to what you were about me to step into the shoes of the users and look from their perspective, right? So can you just talk about creating personas and demographics, psychographics and so on? So

Ellen Lupton:
Great stories have great characters, a great character. Isn't all may always good. A great character makes some stakes and great character has a great character, has a fatal weakness. So when we think about personas, this is a tool that's widely used by designers, where a character is created and this character reached Black's actual problems and issues and desires that potential users of the product. And so typically in the design process, one creates multiple personas because if you only have one, then you're idealized thing, this kind of perfect user, who's like often a handsome white guy, and you need to have this range of people. A really good persona is made from interviewing actual human beings who aren't in the user group of your product designers. Don't always do that. They don't always have time to do all the research to really meet the right people. But even a more simple persona becomes a reminder to the team, working on a project who the people are typically, the team will name these persona, you know, Bob Jane, and Maya, so that when you're talking about a new feature or talking about how the products will be marketed, you can think about the needs of deuce kind of idealized characters, the characters and the story of your product.

Arek Dvornechuck:
So the takeaway is that we should get different personas, right? Because we have a variety of different users. It's not only about one. We can have one main persona and house, but usually with conferences, different people going to use our products or design, so whatever we're working on. So we need to include them all and think about different personas. And therefore, as you mentioned, we create them, we give them a name. So it seems real us in the process. And then we can focus on demographics, who are they and their psychographics and so on to make some decisions on different key elements of visual language and designing an experience or designing an app, or definitely with a working on emojis, quite a lot about emojis as well. Can you just touch on that?

Ellen Lupton:
Oh geez. It's just a really fun part of contemporary life. And I think that they satisfy a need that people have every day users, everybody, all of us he's emoji's and it's because we want to find more depth in our communication. And so being able to have a piece of sushi or the devil or a skull, these are more powerful to many people than just using more designers, have a lot to learn from just the fact that emoji are so popular and you can get into designing emoji and different platforms and companies have their own custom emoji, which is neat. And people get political about emoji and have the lobby to have new emoji added to the vocabulary of icon. And it's a really great area of communication. It has a motion of its corner.

3. Sensation

Arek Dvornechuck:
‍
Yeah. So he can, he was an homologies basically two, three get emotional as well. Okay. So let's talk about the tip arc, which is sensation. And here you focus more on perception and cognition. So can you just walk us through some of the key tools or this third arm awkward? You talk about sensation.

Ellen Lupton:
Design is experienced by people in a temporal way time. So we think of something like a logo or a poster as being just flat, right? It's on a flat surface and it's not moving. It's not doing anything. And yet the way people see something is your eyes are constantly moving. My eyes are moving while I'm looking at you. If I look at a page at type, my eye has to actually follow a very specific path in order to make sense of the type, but for designers to understand a little bit about the experience of reading, the experience of seeing that there's always a path. Our eye is always moving from a to B and as a designer, you can be deliberate about where you place the most important content or a joke that's reveal, right? Something that's funny that somebody discovers as they look at a piece. And so this time can be great shots. It can be a second, or it can be something that has a lot of duration, like traveling through a website or watching your video where there's a long time spent looking at something. So time is very important. And then the idea that people experience design, not just with their eyes, but there's also a sense of touch and sound atmosphere. And of course, this is especially important with experience design, with a retail space, an exhibition, a package, you talked about unboxing, right? The whole process of revealing something over time. And so thinking about sensation is very important and it brings us back to color because certain colors are associated with, you know, the smell of flowers or the color of birthday cake or coffee, right? The kind of richness and more of coffee and a coffee shop versus a very bright, shiny hard place. And so sensation is another really key part of storytelling because when I watch a movie or read a wonderful novel, I'm not just following the action of what somebody is doing. I actually feel like I'm right. You talked about the roller coaster and the physical feeling of being on a roller coaster. Well, if I watch a movie about a roller coaster, I can also get some of that physical feeling. When something shocking happens in the movie, you jumped back, your whole body reacts when there's a romantic scene and people are touching each other, you get a feeling of worms of this physical warmth of these bodies touching. And so this sensory experience is essential to a good story. And as designers we can do more than just appeal to the eye, we can also appeal to these kind of bigger embody things,

Arek Dvornechuck:
‍
Right? So basically going beyond that and some of the key tools we have the gaze, which you just mentioned, that we need to attract the gaze of users and we can guide them as many as we can. We can go queue. And then their example, when we look at the west side, we don't just read everything from top to bottom, we just close it down, up and down and we build some places so we can use color and form or some design elements to actually attract users case, right. And attract their attention to specific parts of a website. For example, then you also talk about gestalt principles, which I think is really interesting, especially for graphic design. That is so heated. Talk about some of the designers may know about that. Some of the scientists were just starting out in this for the first time. It's quite interesting, for example, the similarity proximity, college of symmetry, and so on some of the key form of visual expression that you can use, you know, getting inspired by and using your designs. Also, you talk about affordance, which is basically about objects that you get an auction, right? So it could be a bottom bottles are leaking, right? When he was our first crowding pages are flipping as a wall. So,

Ellen Lupton:
‍
Right. Those are all things that people do to scrolling through a website is an action. And I have to make the effort to do it right. I have to be enticed to scroll beyond the first page. I have to be motivated to click a button. I have to be motivated to turn the page of a magazine, but I love what you just said, because those are all physical actions that people do with their body and that the design has to invite that. And it has to be obvious. I have to know that it's a button I have to know. It's something I can interact with. I don't want to be surprised something suddenly flips and I didn't intend for that to happen. These are really cool examples because they are so physical.

Arek Dvornechuck:
Right. And some of the other, those you talk about in this part is behavioral economics, which is basically about you break down how people make decisions and how they come to the cards feeling. And also you talk about the sensory design, which you just touched on. That is about going beyond, you know, design's traditional focus on vision. We've gone beyond that and incorporating other senses, thoughts, smell, and things like that. And I do like at the beginning in the introduction you talk about Sagmeister right. I just want to hear that from you. I think that's really interesting. We make an argument about why graphic design is storytelling. And I think that will be interesting for our listeners to Kate about that.

Ellen Lupton:
So I was at a dinner and a young man was across the table from me and he asked me what I was working on. I said, well, I'm doing a book about storytelling. And he said to me, very serious, very worried. He said, have you heard about Sagmeister? Well, yeah, I know who Sagmeister is. What's the thing. Well, and he told me that, you know, he had seen this video and the Sagmeister had complained about a roller coaster designer. And this rollercoaster designer had described his work as storytelling. And Sagmeister was very annoyed by this because he felt, why can't it just be designing roller coasters? Why do we have to sort of layer everything with storytelling? And yeah, we started our conversation with this. A roller coaster is the archetype of a story, right? The shape of it, the energy, the rising and falling action and roller coaster designers actually build on the innate physics of going up and down the hill on a track. They add to that sound effects, the music making you stop at the top, delaying a lot of storytelling. Movies are about delaying the action, like making that's part of the excitement. They'll add a theme. It's not just a rollercoaster. It's also a waterfall or it's a Western adventure or it's space smell. It gives

Arek Dvornechuck:
A beautiful illustration just to show you guys. So really Allen actually breaks that down. So you can see you're talking about get-go has sort of things that have to,

Ellen Lupton:
You know, I appreciate Stefan. Sagmeister his idea that graphic design isn't it enough that it's graphic design, isn't it enough that it's a roller coaster. And yet I feel that there is so much that we can learn it. Really. My book is about learning and being inspired by principles, which are essential to the art forms that appeal to people the most right storytelling is as old as human beings. It's a lot older than graphic design. And it has these structures and ideas that are so valuable to us, to the idea of action, right? So graphic design, it shouldn't just sit there centered type in the middle of the page has no movement. It has no action. And that's why we add asymmetry or put something on an angle or create some interruption from element of surprise that comes from stories, the notion, a threshold and a story. You are entering a new world, right? You are sitting in your armchair, but you turn on the TV or you open a book and now you are somewhere else, right? A new world and a work of design, a website, a product, an exhibition, even a poster is a kind of window, or pour it all into a new world. We want to bring people into a new space and mental space. And the idea of empathy, which is what stories do right, is to put you in the shoes of the hero to make you a new person, to experience life as a new person, empathy is just such an important idea for designers.

Arek Dvornechuck:
‍
So we've got something to wrap up. So as we approaching the end of our interview, of course, I'm going to link to that book in the description box. But I just wanted to ask you if you can just let us know, but it is for designers. One a that a model from you. We can get in touch with you, or maybe other teachers who want to learn more about your water and that inspired in-depth teaching, pause your work. So how can we get you the best way to get in touch with you?

Ellen Lupton:
‍
You follow me on Instagram or Twitter at @EllenLupton, you can email me elupton@mica.edu. I have many books. This is just one of them. I have a book all about designing for the senses. The senses. I have a book about design for healthcare that came out in 2020. I have a new book coming out in 2021 about design and feminism and inclusion. And anti-racism, it's a book called extra bone coauthored with six other amazing writers about creating a more inclusive design. So there's lots of great books To me. Um, and I I'd love to touch with them.

Arek Dvornechuck:
Awesome. Thank you so much for coming on the show. Thank you.

Ellen Lupton:
Thanks for having me. Bye bye.

Arek Dvornechuck:
‍
Thank you.

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