Draw People into Your Story with the Rule of Three

Good design, like storytelling, brings ideas to life.

When designing a piece to persuade, your first goal is to draw people’s attention. Whether crafting memorable brochures or data-rich infographics, designers invite viewers to enter a scene and explore what is there.

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Easy as 1-2-3

Three is a magic number, and it resonates with the human spirit.

Important tasks have three basic steps (Stop, Drop, and Roll). Punchy slogans come in groups of three (Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness). And every epic story has a beginning, middle, and end!

Sets of three push people to act, and – as a bonus – they provide a powerful memory aid. When you want to maximize visual impact, here are several ways to use the rule of three in your designs:

Three Steps

It takes courage to move forward, so give people a visual path to follow. Try a 3-step infographic, a 3-part “make the switch kit,” or 1-2-3 arrows (with corresponding action steps) on a winding visual highway.

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Three Pathways

New platforms can overwhelm people, and clients aren’t always sure WHAT they want to do.

Offer “design hospitality” by using three pathways on your postcards (view samples/get a quote/connect with a specialist). Or build apps and landing pages offering three channels at key junctures (enroll/log in/ask me later).

Three Choices

People faced with too many choices are less likely to make any decision at all.

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In your pitch, try offering purchase options in groups of three (platinum/silver/gold plans or 30-60-90/day subscriptions) to encourage a decision.

Three Panel Stories

One memorable way to sell products is by creating a third visual panel that surprises or delights.

Like a comic strip with a punchline at the end, three-panel stories should end with a splash of humor or a surprise. Here’s one example from a mattress sell sheet:

Panel 1: A donut with legs sitting on a luxurious mattress.

Panel 2: A donut hole with legs running at full sprint.

Panel 3: The running donut hole dives through the hollow belly of the seated donut and lands on the bed with a goofy smile.

Punchline: “The Perfect Mattress for Finding Your Center.”

From Disengagement to Delight

Good design takes people from confusion to clarity and from disengagement to delight. Use a narrative arc in your visuals to increase conversions and make your message stick!

Design Is Storytelling

by Ellen Lupton

The latest book from award-winning writer Ellen Lupton is a playbook for creative thinking, showing designers how to use storytelling techniques to create satisfying graphics, products, services, and experiences. 

Design Is Storytelling explores the psychology of visual perception from a narrative point of view. Presenting dozens of tools and concepts in a lively, visual manner, this book will help any designer amplify the narrative power of their work.