Storytelling and Revenue: Design is Money

Posted by on 26th Feb 2021

Design is Storytelling by Ellen Lupton is a great read: fast, funny, useful. Design is not storytelling for pleasure: stories are being used to make money.

A poster is designed. Objects are designed. Museums are designed. The design of everything, however, is improved by considering storytelling techniques. What journey does the hero (or customer) go on as they interact with the product? How can customer experience be improved by considering the highs and lows of the journey? How can you use design principles (groups of three) to make the voyage earn more money for the company? How can you use colour to make more money?

Wine is associated with colour. The pages on wine were the funniest and the most intriguing for me, particularly Lupton’s observations on words used to describe wine. Descriptive words are separated into light colours (such as straw or pear) for white wine and dark colours (such as chocolate or blackcurrant) for red wine. Yet, if you use an artificial dye to make white wine turn red, drinkers use dark words to describe it, even though they are drinking white wine. Design—not the object—affects how people think.

Lupton even has a section for museums. Hard research doesn’t attract visitors; experiences bring people. (I am guilty of this—the most memorable exhibitions I’ve visited were those driven by interactions. The butterflies at the natural history museum, for example.) The visitor has a better experience if they go on a quest for knowledge rather than just reading information on labels. (How many people even read the labels? Except me. I love to read the labels. I loved the story about getting a job as a curator requiring neat and small handwriting in Richard Fortey’s Dry Storeroom Number 1.)

In telling a story to make money, does it compromise the message? At a meeting between the government and the ‘culture industry’ this week, we were told:

‘At the heart of the cultural sector lies a commitment, much of it set in statute, to preserving items of historical significance and exploring their context. That juxtaposition of stunning buildings and artefacts with well-researched and diverse storytelling is something our audience value hugely. It is one of the reasons why cultural venues have a huge role to play in our economic recovery.

‘The stories we tell reflect the times we live in…’

If, however, it is revenue that is driving the stories told, rather than the times we live in, can we trust the stories? People do love stories, but context is everything. Longer, more nuanced stories and less clickbait are hard to argue against unless you are talking solely about revenue.

Boiled down, Lupton tells the reader how to use design to make money. Her book has practical ways to make customers enjoy their experiences more. And by increasing enjoyment, you also generate more revenue.