Interview: Eve Simon, Design and Storytelling

Eve Simon, we are talking about designing and cultivating social flows here. Why or how does storytelling factor into developing designs and brand strategy? Is there a difference between creating art and design in this context?

Story is everything. Your brand is the essence of who you are, what you stand for, and why it matters to your audience. Story is the vehicle we use make brand accessible and engaging.
It’s impossible to articulate the visual impact of your message without embracing both beauty and purpose. One of the Shaker’s guiding principles simply states:

“Don’t make something unless it is both necessary and useful; but if it is both necessary and useful, don’t hesitate to make it beautiful.”

As a result, they never created a chair that didn’t meet both the visual need for beauty, or the practical requirement to sit.

In my opinion, that’s the true root of visual storytelling: creating something that transcends the specific technique used to make it.


In developing designs, how do you discover the story that needs to be told? Do most of your clients come to you with a clean story, or do you have to tease it out of them?

A story can be told in a million ways. The trick is to identify the questions whose answers will elevate the story to new heights. I don’t expect a client to speak my language. They should be comfortable sharing their unfiltered thoughts, and trust that I can translate those ideas into a living, breathing vision of their narrative.

What designers need to remember is that we are, at our core, communicators and problem solvers. We must be able to express our ideas both verbally and visually, and learn how to listen carefully for what is left unsaid. Sometimes my client workshops feel a little like group therapy, but you never know what small piece of revealed information will lead to an “ah-hah” moment. Designers need to keep asking “why” until we uncover the answers that will provide depth, insight and meaning to our work. Asking “How do we make the website look really hip?” is worlds apart from asking “How do we emotionally engage people in your mission through the website”? Communicating an authentic, clear and meaningful message through design that moves people to do something is where the real story begins.

How do you then take that story and make it visual?

Oh, you know. Magic. At least that’s what it must look like from the outside.
The story itself needs to drive the best way to tell it. Maybe it’s a single, perfect image. Maybe it’s type and message. Maybe it’s nothing more than creating a neutral interface that allows content to shine.
One of the best lessons I ever learned about crafting visual narrative came when I was in grad school for theatrical lighting design (long story, don’t ask). I was struggling to light an intimate scene between two characters and had illuminated the large set with nearly 300 different lights at 100% strength. I almost couldn’t see the stage anymore through the glare, let alone the actors. My professor told me to turn everything off. One by one, I brought up single lights that simply revealed the dynamic and story between the characters at that point in time and the result was breathtaking. A moment that started out blindingly overwrought became dramatically focused, all by remembering what we were trying to say in the first place.


What advice would you give to designers of social flows?

Design principles, techniques and best practices are a critical part of our work, but I wonder if we sometimes rely too much on them.  I’m not saying that technical skill, knowledge of software and design training isn’t important – we couldn’t produce anything tangible without it. However just because we have access to many tools doesn’t mean we’ve solved the problem. Rather than create overly complex interactions or layouts that make perfect sense to your inner storyteller, remember that the audience doesn’t have you over their shoulder to explain it. Everything you do should spring from story you’re trying to tell.

Also never be satisfied with “That’s how we’ve always done it”. Change can be scary and many organizations are risk adverse but its our job as designers to push beyond the comfortable towards innovation. Don’t minimize the “why” or allow process to suck the authenticity out of your work. Go with your gut, and fight to tell the story the best way you know how.

DO design your projects to be beautiful

DO design for a purpose

DO design for your audience

DO design for emotional engagement

DO design for authenticity

DO design for impact

DO design for simplicity

DO design responsibly


DON’T ever waste the opportunity we have as designers to change the world.
SOURCE MATERIAL – beaconfire blog posts and edits by Eve Simon.