“Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.”

– Steve Jobs

As you gathered and sorted through your research, you likely began developing ideas on how you want that information to be presented to make your ideas clear and compelling. If not, where do you start?

Choose a Model

A technique professionals use is choosing a model for their project. Find a book, video, exhibit, movie, music, performance, website, whatever has a look and feel that you want for your story. Study your model and figure out what it is that you like about it. No point using one unless there are specific parts that you admire.

Use your model as a guide to map out how to present your story. This isn’t stealing. You’re learning from other work. This is not about copying. Your model is an inspiration and source of ideas. Adapt its ideas in ways that help present the story you are telling.

Better yet, find 10 models and use the best ideas from each. Keep samples of them in your Ideas folders.

Storyboard Your Story

To storyboard means to create a sequence of simple drawings with minimal text to visualize the various pages, stages, or sections of your story. Film and TV directors use them as a matter of course. They’re a great way of visualizing what your ideas might look like. They can work as a map of your project. They don’t have to be pretty or make any sense to anyone who isn’t telling the story with you. Try it. Highly recommended. Download this Storyboard PDF with two examples: one from the movie Ghostbusters, and the second for an online customer registration workflow. Search online for other possibilities.

Looking Good

Neatness counts. Looks matter. You can’t force someone to like your story, but you can make it easier for them to enjoy it. You can’t make them watch or read something they don’t want to, but you can persuade them to give you their attention for a little while.

Good design helps make those things possible.

When planning the presentation of your story, there are some basic design elements that help get your audience involved. Few people have really good design skills. But that doesn’t mean you can afford to overlook the importance of design.

Find models or examples that you find appealing. If they got your attention, their designers have done something right. Look at how they use and balance text, images, colour, as well as any other elements in their work (music, movement, shape, scale).

Try to be aware of the following key points. Search for more information and resources to explore any of them in greater detail using our Fact Finding tips.

  • Themes
    Anything that is visually engaging and has been created by women and men uses colour themes and schemes to coördinate the use of colours in harmonious ways. Be aware of what these are and make them work for you. Here are two good places to start: Adobe Colour Wheel and Coolors.
  • Visual Balance
    Every page or panel should have a pleasing balance of text, images, and white space. This gives the reader a comfortable and familiar combination of elements and gently guides them through their interaction with your story. Do a search for examples of visual balance using our Fact Finding tips.
  • Text and Typeface
    Text must be legible. Your audience has to be able to read it with easy. This typically means 12-point text for print and 30-point text (or larger) for video or projection. Even larger for exhibits. Your choice of font and typeface should be made on legibility as well as appropriate style. There are thousands to choose from, so consider the possibilities. Here are a handful of some popular choices.
Typeface examples
  • Image Quality
    Photographs, illustrations, and graphics must be of sufficient quality for how you plan on using them. Unclear or pixelated images will push your audience away. 95% of non-professionals work with inadequate photos. Take time to get it right by reading Technical Considerations.
  • Video + Audio
    Video and audio must be easy to watch and to hear. Don’t waste time incorporating them into your project if they are substandard. If you can’t take the trouble to use high quality video and audio, don’t expect your audience to pay attention to them to them. Details can be found in Technical Considerations.
  • Consistency
    It’s important to establish rules of consistency in your story’s presentation. Headlines should look like the other headlines, body text should look the same throughout, and sub-headings and captions must be consistent. Doing so subconsciously reassures readers or spectators as to where they are, where to go next, as well as how to find what they’re looking for.

Looking good is not a goal unto itself. Bad design makes it easy for someone to say “No, thanks; not interested.” Good design is a storyteller’s way of assuring their audience that you know what you’re doing and that it’s worth their time to follow your lead.

Great design is invisible: you don’t focus on how nice things look because the design makes you more interested in the story that the design is helping to tell. Apple does this particularly well.

Remember:Great Design = Getting People to Do What You Want Them To.


Here are three design websites to inspire you. VISME, Canva, and Crello. All have free tools (and paid options, too), but all three have lots of examples of solid design that might help you brainstorm ideas for your story.

These next three inspirations are all about websites. Each has wonderful galleries of examples that will get your visual imagination rolling, and offer numerous online tools if you want to present your story on the Internet (or possibly as an e-book, which is essentially a portable website wrapped in an e-book interface). All three have free and paid options. Wix, Strikingly, and SquareSpace. All of these sites have wonderful online support and tutorial videos.

Finally, images and graphics are essential to any presentation. But finding ones that are suitable and affordable can be a challenge. There are many online sources for thousands of high-resolution images that are available for no cost other than the acknowledgement of their creators. So if you use one of these, make sure that you do. Unsplash is one of the very best. (And it’s Canadian!)

Image Tracking

Keep track of every image you intend on using and its pertinent details. Use our Image Tracking PDF form to make this a simple matter. You’ll thank yourself later on if you do. Save copies of everything you intend on using in a Digital Assets folder on your computer.

Copyright & Credit

It is important to remember that whatever photographs, graphics, music, or videos you use in your project, it will fall under some copyright. This literally means the right to copy. You must ensure what you have secured such rights before you use anything in your project. For example, when you do a Google search for images, select Tools and then Usage Rights in the sub-menu.

Usage Rights

That will allow you to search for images by filtering what their usage rights (copyrights) are. Owners and curators of material found on the Internet can often be very generous and understanding when providing you with rights to use their material, so it is strongly encouraged that you contact them directly if that information is provided. Explain precisely how you intend on using the material and for how long. If you are provided with copyright at no cost, or occasionally for a small fee, be sure to acknowledge where the material has come from. That is a necessary courtesy to the copyright holder as well as to other storytellers who might be interested in visiting archival sources that you have discovered.

Book Design

Blake spoke with his friend, C.S. (Scott) Richardson, on the subject of book design. Until recently, Scott was VP & Creative Director of Penguin Random House Canada. In these videos, he talks about his design logic in creating powerful and effective designs for books. But even though he focusses on book design here, his ideas can be applied to any type of presentation design.–ker0