Why is Storytelling at the core of Design Thinking?

My story with Design Thinking goes way back to 2017, when I started to take life coaching sessions. My coach was a Service Designer and a passionate Design Thinker. As in every coaching session, there is a part in which the coachee needs to offer at least 20 solutions or actions she/ he will be taking to solve the problem. From those 20, only three are chosen and executed lately. Why this story has any connections with Design Thinking besides that my coach was a practitioner is that all those 20 solutions I proposed were Design Thinking practices. My coach was astonished, and she told me, and I quote: “It took me years to study and practice Design Thinking, but it seems that for you, it’s natural.” I was amazed, as well. If I look back now to that day, I believe I might have been what Tim Brown names in his Change by Design book “raw Design thinking material” ( Brown, 2009, 235).

Pexels Stock Images, 2019, Nairobi, Kenya

I have started with this story to dive into why storytelling stands at the core of Design Thinking.  Tim Brown in his “Change by Design” book mentions the fact that “we mostly rely on stories to put out ideas into context and give them meaning” (Brown, 2009, 132). Without a story, many ideas fade along the way, products don’t succeed, brands fail, and people are forgotten.  Stories and storytelling is what we create and do every day. From telling your partner how was your day, to telling your manager how to move forward with a project, everything we say needs to have a story behind, so it can be understood and remembered.

Through stories we move people, we convince them to support our ideas, we encourage them to spread our message.

For this reason, Brands rely so much on storytelling. As an example, in any perfume commercial, the viewer gets plunged into a heavenly world in which one gets superpowers and can achieve everything. The brand tells a story about how the buyer feels and how their life will change if they buy the product. “Stories reinforce the emotional reasons” (Brown, 2009) and that is why we remember, and we pass it on to other people. Stories are crucial for brands because they are a powerful tool to make a significant impact.

Parfums Christian Dior, Natalie Portman. Picture from Vogue, 2017. Accessed on 22 September 2019.

In the Innovation Process Evolution 6² created by the Portuguese company Mindshake, a new concept is presented through storytelling with visual support such as a storyboard, photos, or prototypes. A story accompanied by images keeps the listener engaged and curious. Even though we had many ideas along the innovation process, only one idea “stand out from the crowd.” That idea had a story with a begging, middle, and end. That is why an idea without narrative structure is doomed to fade away along the design thinking process.

Fig. 1: Innovation Process Evolution 6² Mindshake Design Thinking Model by Katja Tschimmel (2018)

We have developed many ways over the years on how to deliver our stories: from books to movies, to coffee-talks and social media, storytelling is what sets us apart from other species and makes us human. (Brown, 2009. 131)

Even though storytelling is as old as time, it is still the most common activity we do every day. Therefore, this ability that makes us unique is at the core of the innovation process and problem solving, and hence the key element of Design Thinking.

Written by Andreea Cozma on 22nd of September, 2019.


Brown, T & Katz, B. 2009. Change by design: how design thinking transforms organizations and inspires innovation. 1st edition. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers.

Tschimmel, K. 2019. Design Thinking. [lectures]. Held on 6-7 September. Laurea Univesity of Applied Sciences.

4 thoughts on “Why is Storytelling at the core of Design Thinking?

  1. This is very true Andreea. Stories can really help to captivate the listener and help remember later what was discusses. When you add visuals to the mix, such as pictures and drawings, you help to make the story concrete and eliminate any miss-understandings. For example: two people can here the same story but draw two very different pictures of what they heard. Using visuals encourages discussion and helps to bring the two listener on the same page.

    • Thank you, Lyydia for such an inspiring comment. Indeed drawings and visuals play a vital role in the storytelling process. As you have mentioned in your comment, two people can hear the same story and see different things, and that is why when prototyping an idea or a product, visuals as crucial to make the audience to understand the concept fully.

  2. Excellent examples on how storytelling can help communicate complex concepts. Idris Mootee states in his book Design Thinking for Strategic Innovation (2013), that when one uses storytelling to communicate vision or strategy it is important to participate different stakeholders in crafting the story. This makes it even more likely that the listeners can relate to the story and learn how their behavior needs to change in order to succeed in the future. I think this is a good point to remember when using storytelling to promote change: be it in the business world or in society overall.

  3. Excellent examples on how storytelling can help communicate compex concepts. Idris Mootee states in his book Design Thinking for Strategic Innovation (2013) that it’s important to participate different stakeholders in crafting the story of vision or strategy. This helps listeners to relate to the story and learn how their behaviour needs to change to support future success. I think this is a good point to keep in mind when using stories to promote change, be it in business world or society overall.

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