ENGS 15.1 - Narrative Design for Innovators


Innovators cannot avoid narrative. It simply comes with the territory. Would you have heard of Apple if it didn’t break through with a powerful THINK DIFFERENT brand? Or what about Theranos? Would they have risen (and fallen) so quickly if it weren’t for a captivating idea about changing healthcare with just one drop of blood? In both of these cases, would the founders have been so iconic without their infamous black turtlenecks? Innovation, scale, and story go hand in hand. As the innovator brings their idea to the world, they have a number of questions to consider: how do I communicate what’s so game-changing about this idea? How do I tell my story so investors and advocates trust me to bring this innovation to market? How do I build a brand my audience identifies with (and wants to buy)? How do I build a company culture that recruits and retains the best talent — and rallies people to make a positive impact on the world? These are all designed objects with narrative at the core, which we’ll learn to craft. We’ll explore how traditional design processes and mindsets used to create digital and physical artifacts can be applied to the narrative artifact. Building on this foundation, we’ll also expand the designers’ toolkit with new methods of research, analysis, and craft specific to the narrative dimension of design work. From Airbnb to Tesla, Beyonce to Taylor Swift, we’ll go way beyond “marketing” and analyze case studies of how the world’s most impactful innovators use diverse narrative strategies to grow traction around their ideas and achieve their goals. Students will then get to try their hand at applying these strategies to design impact-focused narratives through practice projects. For the midterm project, student groups will redesign Budweiser to speak to a modern story of masculinity. For the culminating project of the course, students will design and pitch narrative objects to real-world founders to help them launch their new-to-world businesses.