Graphic Design: How To Tell A Story Using Graphics
July 25, 2013
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Human beings have been doing it forever. Cavemen used pictures, painted on the walls of their caves and on rocks, to tell stories. Ancient Egyptians used hieroglyphics. European painters used multiple canvases to advance a story.
Even today, comic books and graphic novels combine words and images to tell a story. As a graphic design student, learning how to master this technique may be an important skill. Check out the following three tips for using graphics to tell a story:
1. When you’re brainstorming, visualize your story.
Most designers begin projects with research and brainstorming. But, as a graphic designer, your focus is on the images you are creating.
While you are brainstorming, take a few moments to visualize your story. If you are using multiple images, imagine how each panel may work together to construct a narrative. Ask yourself:
- Do these images build on one another?
- Is the relationship clear?
- Do I need to add a textbox for comment or clarification?
- Are these ideas too complex to be represented graphically? Too simple?
- Can the reader easily discern the narrative arc from the images I have in mind?
Remember that the story is the most important part of your design. You may have to make some aesthetic sacrifices to ensure the graphics tell the right story.
2. Use a variety of resources.
In her article chronicling her struggle to represent the September 11 terrorist attacks, art director of The Charlotte Observer Joanne Miller argues, “Few graphics are as valuable to readers as step-by-step diagrams that we use to show, in detail, what happened and when.” Her team constructed such graphics to accompany newspaper articles covering the attacks.
However, her team’s diagrams were not simple. They used a variety of resources and approaches to make sure their graphics translated to their audience. Consider these resources and graphic structures for your projects:
- Graphic timelines
- Video feeds from network television news
- Reference materials
- Three-dimensional graphics
- Locator maps
By combining these various graphics, Miller and her team were able to construct a clear and informative story. Some of the graphics were accompanied by text that explained their purpose and their visual goal while others simply had a title.
When incorporating a variety of resources into your design, you must remember that you may need more or less written explanation to ensure clarity. Ask friends or classmates to look at your graphic story to test whether or not you’ve found the right balance.
3. Know your story.
Director, cinematographer and photographer Simon Sticker notes that the most important part of storytelling is knowing your story. You must be familiar with the intricate details – the people involved, the location, the timeframe and other developing details.
Sticker recommends, “Research as much as you can before, be open as much as possible while you work on the story and try to keep as much flexibility when things develop in a different direction.” Flexibility as you are constructing your graphics is important.
When you are constructing graphics for a news story, fictional story or for general information, use these tips to ensure the narrative is clearly constructed and translatable to your audience. Knowing how to communicate through images is a vital skill for graphic designers.