Digital Design Should Tell the Story Your Words Can’t

Recently, graphic design seems to have been relegated to the backseat in the online world. The prevalent trend is to create websites that show nothing more than a corresponding (and unimaginative) image alongside a block of text about a given topic. Text has become the main event. Web developers, writers and business owners spend hours crafting content to send a clear message, impress readers and show up on the radar of search engines, yet the art of good design has fallen by the wayside. Design’s potential impact is overlooked and it is too often forgotten that good digital design originated as a way to communicate a message to viewers when text alone just wasn’t enough.

Apple Watch
Apple Watch

Good design can and should, take a website to another level and it should do so by telling a story. If you’re interested in rediscovering the artistic roots of design or simply want to explore methods for utilizing design to tell a good story, read on.

This is a guide on how to use a few simple design techniques to tell the story that text simply can’t. A story is far more memorable than a simple image. A story has more impact. And if your organization doesn’t tell a story on the homepage of its website… perhaps you should be the person to change that fact.

What Story Are You Telling?

Before you begin creating a website, it’s important to identify what story you want to tell. Should it be uplifting? Energetic? Emotional?

Think about the brand and the specific emotion you hope it will elicit in individuals. Nike is a good example of a business that uses storytelling well. Most individuals can’t imagine the Nike brand without thinking of athleticism. Design your story  – and your website – around that one feeling you want others to experience when they think about the brand and products.

NIKEiD screenshot

Here are a few examples of websites (live at the time of this post) that do a good job telling tell stories:

The UK Energy Consumption Guide from Evoenergy

UK energy guide screenshot
UK Energy Guide

Modern Museum of Art: Century of the Child

MoMA - Century of the Child - screenshot
MoMA: Century of the Child

Wix Interactive Troubleshooting

WiX interactive troubleshooting screenshot
WiX Interactive Troubleshooting Tutorial

The Basics of Storytelling through Images

Storytelling makes your brand more memorable in part because it helps consumers create an  emotional connection to your brand. But how do you communicate that story?

Visually speaking, you do this by selecting powerful, high-quality images, text elements and great effects. The aesthetic of your design should match the emotion you want others to feel. Research typography and colour; do a quick search of a stock image provider and browse through their offerings. Which images make you feel the emotion you want to convey? Take detailed notes about which images inspire this feeling and soon you’ll begin noticing patterns. Those patterns are what you will want to capitalize upon.

Innovative companies like Wix and their line of ecommerce websites encourage businesses to communicate their message with energetic feeling typography to increase visitor investment. This is more important than you think. Just ask the late Steve Jobs.

The advantages to using a larger platform such as Wix are obvious. They have done a great job telling their story, and beating WordPress at their own game while doing it. Why wouldn’t you want to use a platform from great story makers themselves?

Ecommerce companies, the most difficult and competitive of all internet verticals have gone so far as to use action shots of people using the product in daily living, instead of a standalone image next to a price.

Large Header Images

If a picture is worth 1,000 words, an excellent picture may well be worth more. Where possible, give presence to the beginning of your story with a large header image (perhaps one big enough to take up all the space above the fold) with high contrast and a powerful message. Ideally, a picture will, in an instant, tell the viewer everything that your brand is about. If you can’t find the right photo, consider using an illustration for your homepage!

A great example of this is TOMS line of shoes. Their website is brimming with great photos that send a powerful message. The images concentrate on what their company is about more than the product they sell.

TOMS screenshot

High Contrast Headline

You don’t need a long paragraph to convey a message. Just a few words written in large typeface can pack a punch, especially when paired with a great image. Pare your message down to one brief phrase that sticks.

The words should be as powerful as the image and don’t necessarily need to have anything to do with the product. McDonalds’ “I’m Lovin It” slogan doesn’t mention their food and while it might sound a little cheesy, we all remember it.

I'm lovin' it

Pick Colors Like a Pro

Hue and colour dramatically and directly influence what people feel. Fast food chains go bold on reds and yellows to encourage people to eat quickly. Capitalize on the science that’s already been done for you and research which colors make people feel the emotion that you want your story to elicit.

Your story should always be on-target with that emotion. And always beta-test to ensure that your color selection is helping you to tell the right story. You can do this by asking trusted colleagues, create a survey using SurveyMonkey between 2 competing version of your website design.


Every company, from a small mom-’n-pop selling a few products online to a low-cost leader like Target, can weave a great story on their website. The right use of graphic elements goes a long way in telling the tale and leaving an effect on site visitors. You’ve got nothing to lose! Give it a try and start using design to tell your story. Not only will it help to set you apart from others in your industry, but it’ll make your brand more memorable… and more powerful.