Designing a Visual Story: Overview & Steps

Instructor: Natalie Boyd

Natalie is a teacher and holds an MA in English Education and is in progress on her PhD in psychology.

What is a visual story, and how can you create one? In this lesson, we'll examine visual storytelling, including what visual stories are, different types, how they are used, and an overview of the steps to creating one.

Visual Storytelling

Leila is a graphic designer. A client recently hired her to design a visual story to show potential customers how the client's facial product can help women look great with very little time and effort. But Leila isn't sure where to start.

Visual storytelling is just what it sounds like: telling a story through primarily visual means. In other words, visual storytelling involves offering a narrative with few or no words. Graphic artists like Leila, as well as other types of visual artists, performers, and marketing executives are just a few people who create and use visual storytelling.

To help Leila out, let's take a closer look at visual storytelling, including how it's used and the steps to create a visual story.

Overview & Uses

When Leila's client tells her that they want a visual story, she's right to be a little confused. That's because visual storytelling can come in a variety of formats. Photography, video, cartoons, and infographics are all just a few types of visual stories.

In general, visual storytelling falls into two main categories. Traditional visual stories involve things like photography, video, and comics. These are offered via traditional means, such as television commercials or art gallery installations.

In contrast, non-traditional visual stories engage new media, such as social media and other online platforms, to reach an audience. Because of this, they are sometimes called digital visual stories. These can include things like infographics, memes, and gifs. Though traditional visual stories can also be used in new media outlets, oftentimes the visual stories are quite different depending on the way the information is transmitted. For example, if Leila's client wants a visual story that they can use on Instagram, they're probably not looking for a traditional commercial.

Visual storytelling has many different uses. It can be used in fine art to express an artist's vision. It can be used in politics or education to communicate messages and inform people. Or, as in the case of Leila's client, visual storytelling can be used in marketing to sell products.


Now that Leila understands what visual stories are and how they can be used, she's still a little iffy on what the process is for creating a visual story. How should she get started?

There are a few basic steps for creating a visual story. They include:

1. Research the audience. The first thing Leila will want to do is to know who her visual story is meant to reach. Is she trying to reach older adults or teenagers? Men or women? Middle class or wealthy? The more she can know about her audience, the better she can fit her visual story to the audience. For example, if she's trying to reach an older demographic, she might not want to use a lot of young, hip images. Instead, her visuals might tie into nostalgia by using more traditional images.

2. Create characters. Next, Leila will want to create characters that are relatable to the audience. If the product is meant for new mothers, the main character might be a new mother. If the audience is grandmothers or spinster aunts or college seniors or career women, Leila's characters might reflect those audience demographics.

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