Good stories leave a lasting impression. Even if the audience can’t remember exact details, years down the road, they will still remember if it was “awesome,” “horrible,” “sad,” “funny,” and even to what degree of emotion the story evoked. Brands who have a strong story provide the same long term results as a movie or story. And just as with a poor or boring story that is easily forgotten, a brand without a stand out story is quickly forgotten and replaced.
Graphic designers, web designers, web developers, illustrators, design agencies, and others in the graphic design field have to stand out from the competition. If you have a unique skill set, then you probably won’t have trouble finding work or clients. But web designers and graphic designers seem to be found in abundance these days, so creating a brand that prospects and clients remember long after an encounter with you is vital.
Turning your graphic design brand into a memorable story is one powerful way to stand out from the online sea of designers. With a strong story, you make yourself more personal and, therefore, easy to approach. You make yourself real, and clients want to connect with real people, not a company. A story told well also evokes strong emotions, which last longer than a plot line, making it that much more likely that customers will remember you years down the road.
Unfortunately, most businesses consider their story to be some version of ‘our company history’. Or ‘our mission’.
The only problem is that most businesses have no clue as to how a brand story should look. Carol Lynn Rivera explains it like this: “Unfortunately, most businesses consider their story to be some version of ‘our company history’. Or ‘our mission’.” In her article, “Storytelling for Business: The Only Difference Between You and the Competition is the Story You Tell,” she goes on to explain that a brand story has to be one that you not only create but also own and live. It has to become a part of you and your business.
A little daunted at the thought of writing your own brand story, one that you can actually become, as Rivera emphasizes? While it does take some time and thought, creating a story for your graphic design business is very doable if you follow some story-telling tips and are honest with yourself. Take a look at the advice and examples below, and you’ll have an excellent starting point for pulling your own real story together into a brand that sticks with potential and current clients even after they do some shopping around.
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Create Your Character
Without a character, you don’t have a story. The characters are the ones that the audience relates to, makes friends with, or hates like a real enemy. Of course, as a brand you want to be the protagonist, the hero, the good guy that readers love. But to do this, you have to get personal and real. Yes, the story is about your brand but even more so about you and your team, if you have one. Show your downfalls and struggles. Let your personality shine. And create a character that either changes due to conflict or remains the same in spite of conflict. Both are admirable characteristics, depending on the situation.
While the following example is not of a graphic design brand, the character development is one of the best I found. Spanx is a brand of seamless pantyhose that hides all of the unsightly lumps that women hate so much. Sara Blakely is the inventor/ owner of Spanx, and her “About Sara” page tells all about her character in a fun layout using pieces of her clothing.
Create the Plot
A timeline helps readers follow along the story much easier. Plus, having a beginning, middle, and end is expected – readers are used to structure and closure. As a brand story, your beginning will be the explanation of who you are and what you do. The middle will include conflict, failures, details, etc. And the ending brings it all together by explaining how you overcame your conflicts and failures along with an explanation of how readers can join you in your story (see the section on “Include a Call to Action” below). Just be sure that the entire story has a clear theme. You could call this your mission or goal as a brand.
On Sara’s about page is a link to read more of her story. On this page, you see her complete story line, beyond her character development. She aptly tells how she came up with the idea for Spanx, her struggles, and her transitions. Just reading her story makes me want to buy a Spanx product!
Start Off with a Hook
To capture your audience’s attention right away, you’ll want to start with a hook. This could be simply introducing the main mission of your graphic design brand. Or it could be showing your characters as their real, authentic selves. You may even want to start with some foreshadowing of the struggles you have encountered. The best way to do foreshadowing is to give a teaser of something intriguing, then go into the beginning of your story as you build up to that foreshadowed part.
The website of Captain Creative, aka Designer and Art Director Brad James, is one that begs for viewers to learn more about this witty, talented, and intriguing guy. His entire site is designed like a superhero or sports card. On his about page, he reveals his “true identity” with the same creative voice used on the home page. While the copy is a bit long, he breaks it up into short paragraphs well and breaks his skills section into a “Fun Facts” with subheadings like “Weapons of Choice” and weird information like “Tomato Sauce. Pantry or Fridge?”
Don’t Forget the Conflict
Without conflict, stories are boring and easily forgotten. Including conflict within your brand story also is the basis for creating an emotional connection with an audience and it also carries the story through what would otherwise be a tedious description of your company. For graphic designers, the easiest way to come up with a conflict, if you already don’t know what to use, is a problem you encountered and solve for customers. It could be something you found lacking within the general graphic design industry. Or it could be a problem you kept finding with past clients and finally figured out how to overcome this problem.
Unfortunately, I had a really difficult time finding a graphic design brand story with a clear conflict. The Spanx story includes lots of real conflict that helped me to relate to Sara as a person, not a company. But, it would be weird to talk about her story any more than I already have. The following is one graphic design story that includes a very unique type of conflict for a creative duo. Their brand grew out of a problem they experienced together: the inability to find the right map for marking their travels together. So they created their own, sold extra copies, and sold out in minutes. From this, These Are Things emerged and grew into the successful illustration and gift shop (and blog) that it is today.
Include a Call to Action
Without an ending, readers are unsatisfied with the story. A brand story is no different, except that the ending is actually your call to action. After impressing them with a memorable story, what do you want your audience to do next? Contact you? Check out your work? Give them the option to choose?
The Shokunin web services company tells their entire brand story in a single page website with plenty of graphics and illustrations to break up lots of information. The interesting part is that they tell their story like their services are entrees on a restaurant menu. After presenting their “entrees,” which even includes a menu card instead of a pricing table, the page ends with a question: “Ready to place an order?” Below this question are instructions for contacting the company as well as a contact form.
Create a Realistic Voice
Set a tone for your graphic design brand. It could be funny, serious, professional, quirky, or any other personality – but make sure that you keep this tone consistent throughout. To do this, your voice has to be authentic, otherwise you won’t be able to keep it up across your marketing media, from Twitter to your website to business cards. Why do you need a strong, realistic voice? So that you come across as relatable.
On every page of his Forever Heavy brand website, Nick Coates’ witty, tongue-in-cheek, dry humor comes through. With phrases like “would you place your collagen injection therapy in less capable hands? Don’t make the same mistake with your company’s identity” and “growing up, he knew he was destined to be great at one thing, and one thing only: Sitting around all day in his underwear, blowing people’s minds without even formally meeting them,” this website’s clear, consistent, and believable voice makes you want to work with this guy.
Make it Visual
One of the fastest ways to lose an audience’s interest is to tell a story, rather than show it. In a novel, the tip “show don’t tell” means to replace phrase like, “Bob was incredibly sad,” with phrases like, “Bob’s tears fell from his eyes like relentless rain from a grey sky.” For a brand story, showing means to include more than just copy. Add graphics, photos, and videos to show what kind of company you are. If you have photographs of the company in different stages of its story, include these. Create a video to shows your story in less than a minute. Include photographs of your work when you mention different aspects of your skills. Or even demonstrate your story with brief descriptions and lots of illustrations, like a children’s book.
You may have heard of Mars Dorian, the ultra-creative and original brand consultant and designer. On his about page, he includes his story, told in an illustrated, comic book like style full of hilarious comments and graphics. In my opinion, Mars’ story is worthy of its own page, rather than just a “more” below his long, albeit witty, description of who he is and what he does.
Add Interactive Elements
One way to engage readers is by adding in a few interactive elements. Keep in mind balance – you don’t want to overdo it and distract your audience from your brand story. But buttons that keep the story going or pop out extra tidbits or make illustrations dance can all be little extras that keep an audience engaged. You could even use parallax scrolling here and there to make your story feel more like an interactive movie.
Mili Kuo is a very talented interaction designer/ developer, so it’s no surprise that she shows off her work on her single page website. Her about section is more the written explanation of her story, told in a very straight-forward and real voice. The Archive section of her page is more the visual and interactive part of her story. The most interesting part of this section on her page is that examples of her work are included in an old-fashioned TV, complete with a clickable on/off switch and channel dial. Personally, this is the best part of her design, and should be placed higher up on the page.
Create the Right Pace
One of the biggest benefits to using headings and subheadings with lots of graphics and little body copy is because readers can skim through at their own pace. However, including too much information makes skimming impossible. Too little information and readers don’t get a memorable experience. This is where testing out your story on friends and family will help you determine if you included the perfect amount of information.
I absolutely love this promotional page for Ludlow Kingsley’s sale of custom designed chocolates. Using scrolling animations and awesome graphics, Kingsley tells the story of its leftover Christmas gifts (chocolate bars they designed themselves) and the 100% donation to a local non-profit. Each section includes short descriptions, excellent visuals, and quick scrolling to tell the story in the perfect length for keeping readers engaged yet ending before it feels too long.
Because every designer, developer, etc is different, not everyone’s story line will look the same. Some may look like a timeline. Others will look like a comic book. And still others may look like a family scrapbook album. However, I encourage you to stick with an efficient, clear story line to make your brand much more memorable.
Another note: Carol Lynn Rivera makes another interesting point in her storytelling article mentioned above that a good story risks rejection. With a strong story, you are carving out a niche for yourself, and not everyone will dig your niche. She says, “It isn’t until you learn to break the mold and be yourself that you begin to attract the people who find meaning in your story, what you do, how you do it and why.” She goes on to say that to succeed in business, the real stories, the ones with mistakes, are the stories that need to be told.
People who relate to your unique brand story are the ones that will provide you with a strong foundation of loyal customers for years to come. Without a strong story, your graphic design business won’t stand out. So take the plunge, be real, and craft a real story. The right clients will approach you and be more likely to spread the word of your awesome, unique graphic design skills.