Storytelling in User Experience: crafting narratives, designing experiences

User Experience | 24 July 2015

People tend to think about storytelling in user experience almost as some sort of oxymoron: user experience is all about utility and performance, whereas storytelling almost falls into the realm of narrative art, right? Well, not quite: the reason we can even mention storytelling in user experience is because these two concepts actually go hand in hand, or at the very least they should. If this last notion seems overly strange to your digital practices, then read on and find out exactly how storytelling can be an invaluable tool of your User Experience and how Hi INTERACTIVE can help you achieve it.

Get the story back in design: storytelling in User Experience

Stories have been around since the dawn of Humankind and throughout the centuries, they have remained relevant in spite of technological developments: to put it differently, don’t assume that even when you’re addressing a tech-savvy audience you have the luxury to leave storytelling out of your website. Stories help people define their world experiences, share them and learn from them: often times, they are the driver behind people’s motivations. Our methods of communication have definitely had a bumpy ride since the world wide web entered our daily existences: who would have predicted the time would come when telegraphic-style messages (aka, 140-characters it’s all you get) would be back in fashion? If anything, the advent of communication through several social media channels has made emotion connection harder than before, hence the paramount significance and importance of storytelling in User Experience.

The backbone of brand connection: emotion through storytelling

So where does design come into play? As Francisco Inchauste very eloquently put it in his outstanding article Better User Experience With Storytelling, great stories don’t just happen with the stroke of a pen: they are crafted and planned, just like great design is. Quoting Inchauste’s article:

The stories we have seen on the silver screen or read about in novels have been able to captivate us by continuing to use these patterns. We talk about dialogue and certain scenes at the water cooler as if they had happened to a mutual friend, rather than some fictional character. All because we became emotionally invested in the characters and the story.
This type of emotional investment is something that brands strive for every day.

It has become increasingly evident that design does play a rather substantial role in User Experience, but what may not always be as obvious is that design can indeed arouse different emotional experiences. According to researcher Donald Norman, who wrote Emotional Design, people can be affected by design in three different ways, which means we can also categorize design in the following way:
Visceral Design: Represents our first reaction to the design’s look and comes from our subconscious. (First impressions and gut reactions fall into this category)
Behavioral Design: What is our experience when we use the product or the application? How does it work, how does it look, how does it feel?
Reflective Design: How did the experience make us feel? Was the experience significant enough to have a meaning to the user? This is where we create a bridge between the product or the application and our own life experience.

Common elements between storytelling and user experience 

One of the toughest challenges of any project is managing to get everyone involved working in the same direction and building a fabulous experience. Luckily for you, incorporating elements of storytelling in user experience will help you achieve just that and fortunately, there is quite some common ground between these two.

  • Plot/Goal: stories have plots to hold them together; similarly, user experience comes with a set of goals to make the website cohesive and coherence.
  • Characters/Users: stories need good characters to work; a website needs an audience, that is, users. Neither will work unless characters and users are properly understood and design takes into account for their needs and behaviors.
  • Setting/Context: a story’s setting is essential, inasmuch as the context of a website will determine how it is perceived by users and how they will use it.
  • Mood/Colors/Effects/Imagery: a story comes with an emotional tone; a website, in order to really impact an audience, will have to be able to pull an emotional appeal.
  • Movements/Functionality: all stories will have their up and down moments; websites also need a good progressive flow.
  • Invisibility: good design is invisible, good stories make you forget where you are.

All great design has a tale behind it: what’s yours? Call us and get the ultimate storytelling in user experience.