is a blog about design, technology and culture written by Khoi Vinh, and has been more or less continuously published since December 2000 in New York City. Khoi is currently Principal Designer at Adobe, Design Chair at Wildcard and co-founder of Kidpost. Previously, Khoi was co-founder and CEO of Mixel (acquired by Etsy, Inc.), Design Director of The New York Times Online, and co-founder of the design studio Behavior, LLC. He is the author of “Ordering Disorder: Grid Principles for Web Design,” and was named one of Fast Company’s “fifty most influential designers in America.” Khoi lives in Crown Heights, Brooklyn with his wife and three children. Refer to the advertising and sponsorship page for inquiries.+
Earlier this week, a product team here at Adobe showed me their “vision deck”—a Keynote presentation that explains in broad strokes the new product that they intend to build. It’s a very talented team and their slides contained some of the smartest product thinking that I’ve seen in recent memory. But they were getting tripped up on the details, and their slides did not tell a story. Fashioning your design ideas into a compelling narrative is a fundamental skill that not all designers and product people master very easily. Unless your deck does this, the details can overwhelm the intent—and the intent of these things is always to persuade an audience to see things your way.
The advice I like to offer in these instances is to think of a slide deck almost literally as a story, and to follow the essential rules of storytelling. You don’t need to have the skills of a playwright or screenwriter to do this. You just need to swap out basic narrative concepts—the kind you probably remember from grade school—for product and design concepts.
- The bedrock of any story is its characters (not its plot, contrary to what many people believe!)
- The main character in a product vision is your user; start out by telling us who she is, what motivates her, and what her challenges are
- Plot happens when your character/user encounters a new challenge that, ultimately, helps her solve her challenges
- Your product is the plot! Explain how it changes your character’s life
- Your product’s features are the details of your story; they should all show your user’s journey from problem to solution
You can hew as closely to a traditional plot as you like—you could even read Robert McKee’s bible on screenwriting “Story” and build your deck according to the three-act structure that drives most of filmed narrative—or you can just use it sparingly, as it suits you. The key idea is to make your deck about your main character, the user. If you paint a captivating portrait of who that is, and if everything flows from your understanding of that person and her challenges, then you’re on the right track.+