Storytelling in Design
What inspires designers to create beautiful projects? Just like making a fantastic dish to eat, it’s about more than the individual ingredients — it’s about how they all work together! In design, it’s so much more than meeting the basic programmatic needs of our clients. It’s about telling a story.
February 25, 2021
One of the questions I like to ask when interviewing job candidates is, “What inspires you when designing?” It’s a straightforward question, but it gets an array of answers, both expected and novel: the angle of the sun, the view, unlocking a puzzle, the goals of the clients, and many others. If I were answering that question, I would say, “storytelling,” which, to me, is the underlying thread of all great design.
I may be an architect by title, but I’m a storyteller by trade.
Does that sound a bit funny? I can see how it would. Most of what we do as architects is design projects that meet our clients’s programmatic wish lists.
Number of rooms? Check.
Meets the budget? Check.
Looks great? Check.
That’s what the architectural licensing exam prepares us for and the baseline for what we do in this profession. We’ve got to know the basics.
But the basics alone can end up looking like a pile of beautiful ingredients on a kitchen counter that haven’t yet been made into a wonderful meal. Just like creating a mouth-watering and stunning dish to eat requires understanding the nuances in the layers of ingredients, making a design that’s more than just the sum of its parts requires understanding how to mix and flavor a design. And that’s where storytelling comes in.
Storytelling is what we do and what inspires me on every project.
A story requires chapters, layers, and details to make it come to life. That’s the core reason we’re not just an office of architects, but an office of architects, landscape architects, interior designers, and graphic designers. We all come together to make a better project.
It’s also why we love to collaborate with artists, craftspeople, and other designers. Even on a simple, one-discipline project, we know the value of bringing in a diverse group of voices to critique and push a project to make it better. Not just because it is genuinely enjoyable to get the insight from a variety of people (it is!), but because it helps augment the story of every space we design.
Your project has something to say. A designer can help you say it.
I like to mention to clients that every time you give someone a tour of your completed project, it should take a long time. You should walk into each space and not just think, “This is beautiful and functional.” We want you and your guests to notice delightful details with each fresh look. The kinds of things you might not notice right away but that help pull a space together and make it feel more yours.
We believe that’s what custom design does: it draws you into your own story.
What Does Storytelling in Design Look Like?
The possibilities for storytelling in design are as numerous as there are designs. It can be noticeable on a first pass or it can take hours of being in a space to uncover. It can be one specific element or it can be an overall sense or feeling. And everything in between. Here are some examples from our own projects.
Remembering Your Furry Family Members
Look at this image and catch that sly little hole at The Urban Sanctuary cut into the cabinet in the shape of a cat face.
What do you learn about these homeowners through this one detail? It not only tells you that a cat lives here, but that the owners value their pets.
Considering the Flexibility of a Space
Small spaces may seem like challenges when it comes to embedding a story, but their size actually plays to their advantage, like at Crow’s Nest Cottage.
Looking at that coffee table you might notice the legs are hinged. Leaning down, you realize the table folds up so it stays low and fits under the Murphy bed right next to it. These details were made specifically for this space, and now you’re a part of that experience, too.
Bringing Imagination to Life
With apartments, we know that a leasing tour of a property is the big first chance to tell a future tenant the story of what it will be like to live there.
At the Lucille Apartments, we carefully planned the outdoor spaces at the ground level to give a hint of what is waiting on the roof. On a tour, you start to sense what experiences could be waiting for you beyond the elevator or stairs. A story makes you want to turn the page and the final page of this story (and the leasing tour) is a tucked-away tent on the roof that feels like a space all your own.
Design for any good project isn’t something that just meets the program. That’s only the start, and it is why we focus on creative and challenging projects. Our value is in not just solving a problem but in telling a story with the solution — a story that makes you feel invested, proud, and happy every day you’re in it.