Storytelling at PDX Design Week

WE Communications Blog: Consumer

— Julia Zinsmeister, Sr Account Executive 

What do Caitlyn Jenner, #UnicornFrappuccino, and bots have in common? They all exemplify the convergence of design and cultural narratives in the new, new media world. Pulling from pop culture, the media is able to relate to their audience on a personal level – and that intimacy, ironically, allows for a wider breadth of storytelling.

But how do we design for stories? How do you juxtapose a public magazine cover with the private narrative inside? How do you create a product that sparks a social media storm? In this new digital world, what cultural trends are shaping design principles and how does design affect news and inform the public?

These are the questions WE set out to address during our “Once Upon a Design” panel event for Design Week Portland.



Thanks to our panelists, Dena Blevins, Creative Director, Global Promotions & Brands for Starbucks, Kia Makarechi, Associate Director of Audience Development and Story Editor for Vanity Fair, and Anne Milan Alo, Creative Director at WE Communications we distilled these questions into four key insights.


1. The story is still king

Stories tell you the direction, and design takes it to the next level. “A story needs to earn its design,” Kia Makarechi said. The players, the scene, the news – it takes the proper content to produce creative materials that back the story.

PDX Design Week

2.  It’s all about co-creation

You don’t have to know the ending to tell a story. In fact, open dialogue allows your audience to make their own endings. “Respect the intelligence of your audience,” Dena Blevins noted. “Leave the story unfinished, let people tell their own stories” Give them the platform and help them get started – you’ll be amazed how creative people can be when they’re encourage to share their own journey.

3.  Make it personal

Human stories are the most engaging, and the “nuance of human eye and emotion” will keep designers and storytellers from being replaced by bots, Anne Milan Alo explained. Kia said that media are in the business of capturing culture. Stories require emotion and relatability; storytelling by nature requires humanity.

4.  Balance the science with the art

It’s helpful to know the data, but it shouldn’t overshadow the emotion. The explosion of data, tools and social media changes the creative process, but needs to be balanced with artistic instinct.

As storytellers, we’re constantly looking for new ways to connect with readers and tell our stories in a way that connects creative desire and hard hitting news. The industry is changing and the intersection of creativity and storytelling is allowing us to share stories in more personal ways. Storytellers are designers. Designers are storytellers. At our Once Upon a Design panel, we opened a door of exploration in the new realm of sharing creative stories.


Connect with the author, Julia Zinsmeister, on Twitter.