How to Tell a Story

When you want to sell a great product, you have to have a great pitch. While it’s nice to say that a product can sell itself, that’s pretty much rubbish, unless the product has a voice of its own. As the product designer it’s your job to serve as the voice of the product, identifying the niche you’re filling, the problem you’re solving, and wrapping it up in a pretty package.

When considering the story you’re telling, remember that the best stories are made up of four core components.


The characters are the people that the story is about - they should be vivid, realistic, and relatable. You’re main character will be the product itself, and it will help determine the way the plot evolves and will solve the problem, the story focuses on. Other characters (the consumer or competitors) provide greater context and drama to the story. Your characters should remain consistent and authentic throughout the story so viewers/readers believe what you’re telling them, and so they can predict what will happen next. In the case of a great product, they should expect that the outcome would be that the princess (the hearts and passions of consumers) will be rescued from the evil dragon (the evil products currently on the market).


The setting is the where all the action happens. You need to explain the marketplace in such a way that consumers can feel the scene. No matter, if you’re framing it as a future landscape or a distant past, you need to ensure your story has a clear connection between the characters and the locale. You don’t have to appeal to logic, but you should appeal to consumers’ senses. Frame up your story in such a way so consumers can recognize the relationship between their current situation and what you’re telling them.


Without a plot, you’ve just got a bunch of characters standing somewhere. The plot provides the action around which the story is based. You learned this in third grade, but remember that a plot has a clear beginning, middle, and end. The beginning will be some event that gets the story going – it might be a problem, or some sort of conflict. This problem is the promise that you’re pitching. It might be a problem of simplicity, safety, or pride and it need not be bold or audacious, just a credible problem worth solving. Throughout the story, characters will develop and evolve in such a way that there is movement to solve the problem. At the height of action, you’ve found the climax – and most exciting part for your audience. A key component of the plot is speed. If you’re telling a story in an ad, you better solve the problem quickly. If you’ve got a whole campaign, you can take time and build suspense. If you’re going for bonus points, add a bit of suspense, clear descriptions of the events (exposition) and you just might find yourself competing with Mark Twain. Twain would have been a killer salesman.


Eventually, your heroic main character will have met its match and will either prevail or succumb to the environment and other characters. The solution to the problem can come about in any number of ways, but it is critical that it remains consistent with the rest of the story’s tone and stylistic elements. Additionally, you need to solve for all the components of the original conflict – unless you’re preparing for a sequel. To that point, sequels work great in Hollywood, but what consumer will buy the iPhone 5 if you’re already alluding to the features of iPhone 6? So take some time to wrap up your loose ends and let the characters celebrate their victory. 

Now that you know the core components of a story, keep them in mind for your next pitch or presentation. Find a story line that resonates and tell it well – eventually you’ll find consumers eagerly awaiting your first edition.