The Narrative Thread

As a graphic designer, it's no secret that it fills me with dread when I have to contribute words rather than images to the UpriseVSI blog! However, after casting my mind way back to my halcyon days spent in design lectures, I remembered a great lesson I learned that more businesses should take note of when it comes to advertising...

Before I joined a graphic design agency in Cardiff, back when I was studying at the University of Derby, I'll admit that I mainly learned about the all-important art of procrastination! Fortunately, I had one tutor who coached me to overcome this and miraculously helped me to get my degree. It was this same tutor, Leo Broadley, who gave me some of the best design advice I’ve ever had during a module focussing on illustration; it was here that I was first introduced to the concept of the narrative thread.

Leo is a children's book illustrator, so it's probably not surprising to learn that the narrative thread is a technique that's usually used in storytelling. However, I believe that it holds a certain relevance for designers too, particularly as storytelling is becoming increasingly important in advertising and branding. The narrative thread is an imaginary red thread that represents narrative progress and the continuity of the main storyline. The thread's function is primarily to pull the reader through the story, taking them seamlessly from one crucial point to the next. This sense of continuity gives the events of the story a certain cohesiveness, significance and meaning.

This concept made me think back to the Roald Dahl books I read as a child. Whilst I'd enjoyed the stories of The Twits, James and the Giant Peach, and The Witches, it was always Quentin Blake’s illustrations that would spark my imagination. It was the illustrations that transported me to Dahl’s fantastical worlds and really allowed me to explore them. What's this got to do with design, you ask? Well, I believe that brands need to do something similar by using such illustrative techniques to tell a story and invite customers in.

It's not uncommon for agencies to commission photographers to help enhance a new client-branding project but I'd like to see more illustrators and animators being used to bring a brand to life. Whilst photography can be great to literally paint a picture about a company’s working culture, it can't capture a brand's personality in the same way that illustration can. A clever illustration is more than just making a brand recognisable; it can help paint a picture of how something less material and more abstract like a service is worth investing in. I’m not one for clichés, but the saying is that a picture is worth a thousand words. Yet, I believe a good effective illustration can be worth far more than that.

The importance of imagination doesn’t decrease as an adult. Even though our decision-making processes are often rooted in reality, we all love a good story, regardless of age. Consider the major brands such as LEGO, Coca-Cola and John Lewis; their success is largely to do with storytelling. In an overcrowded industry, you have to stand out, and stories are the best way to distinguish yourself from the other brands in your industry. Whilst there are many important elements to brand storytelling, illustration plays a huge role in capturing that initial intrigue. Getting the audience's attention is the first step and memorable imagery cannot be underestimated. Whilst great copywriting and a compelling brand message will ultimately sell your brand, it's the illustrations and imagery that will guide your audience on this journey.

All images by Leo Broadley©

Categories: Design

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