By keeping storytelling at the heart of user experience, designers can create more engaging digital experiences.
Once upon a time, the lives of those who came before us were whispered in cave walls, narrated around bonfires or shared in writing and passed along in the form of stories. These stories were carried through the years shaping up the world we live in.
Stories that have traveled far and wide. Stories that have evolved. However their purpose; to communicate, explore, persuade, and inspire remains the same.
In today’s world our communication has changed. Our information is spread across multiple mass-media channels and delivered through constantly-evolving technology.
With information being mimicked, regurgitated, and thrown out in 140 character blurbs, we’ve lost the personal touch that builds emotional connections.
With so much saturation, how do you get through to your audience and connect on a deeper level?
The answer to this lies in using the art of storytelling.
Stories appeal to more than the intellect; they appeal to emotions, and that’s what helps them create a human connection, the best motivator for action.
User experience designers are tasked with creating impressive, positive and meaningful experiences. Instilling stories in their designs can help them bring more depth and meaning to their complex ideas; making them simple yet striking.
Q. How to create a good story?
The most compelling stories are ones that have a “hero”, who wishes to get to a “destination” and must pass a “barrier” to reach his goal. Most of the movies and books in the world are based on this basic structure. These are the same principles that can be applied to UX design in order to create an unforgettable experience for your user.
Let’s start with this storytelling framework to create the ideal user experience:
1. Who’s the hero (or your user)?
Defining your user’s persona is one of the initial and most vital steps in user design. Based on research and observation, you can build a fictional representation of the user. By building a narrative around your user you can connect to them on a much deeper level.
Once you know your user, you can empathize with him, as he becomes a real person instead of a mountain of statistics and data. It makes it easier to understand his needs, and eventually cater to them.
Refer to your data to get specific in terms of your user’s needs, behavior, goals, shared challenges etc.
Use these personas and craft stories around your fabled users to make them real and cast a more meaningful vision of the project.
2. What’s the barrier (or the problem the user is facing)?
Often designers get caught up in creating an experience or solution without considering what they are providing the user with and why. Put some thought into the purpose of the project you are designing.
To create an ideal solution it is crucial to first understand the struggle of your user, and the “barrier” they are trying to overcome.
Some questions you should answer are: What does the user need? What troubles does the user face? How can you help the user? How does your product or service aid the user?
After discovering who your user is, you must understand what motives them and realize their pain points by empathizing to be able to deliver your 100%.
Once you can identify the “barrier” crafting an effective brand story, an authentic solution, and engaging content will come much easier.
3. Where’s the destination (or the point the user wants to get to)?
A successful product or service is one that assists the users and helps them overcome their “barriers” by taking them to their desired “destination”.
Having a destination in mind, that you and your user share, adds meaning to the process and enhances the overall experience. Defining the value of your project will give you greater understanding of how it’s applicable in the real world and what the ideal outcome is.
At the end of the day, what does your user expect of you? The answer to that is your “destination”.
Don’t just get struck up in the clinical every-day tasks of designing, remember to keep in mind that you are tasked to lead your audience to their “destinations”.
Defining the “destination” adds purpose and drive to the project, providing you with a more solid ending goal.
The final “destination” is the ending to your story, make it a happy one for your user.
Bonus: 3 TED Talks about Effective Storytelling
These 3 TED Talks are about creative and effective storytelling techniques for marketing.
Andrew Stanton – “The Clues to a Great Story”
Stanton brought us “Toy Story” and “WALL-E,” among others. He shares his discoveries of great storytelling in this TED talk. He explains that stories help people to understand who they really are. This allows people to experience the similarities they have with one another.
In addition to connection, Stanton also talks about engagement. He and his writing partner came up with what they called, “The Unifying Theory of 2 + 2.” This theory basically says that you don’t ever give the audience “4;” you give them 2 + 2 and make them come up with 4.
JJ Abrams – “The Mystery Box”
Film and TV writer/director, JJ Abrams, staunchly believes that “mystery is the catalyst for imagination.” In this TED talk, Abrams opens up about how his fascination with the mysterious has been the driving force behind his storytelling.
By weaving in a little mystery into your brand story you are “invoking wonder” and provoking interaction. Engagement and connection to the brand is the point here and using mystery creates the potential for taking it all to a deeper level.
Nancy Duarte – “Uncovering the Structure of the Greatest Communicators”
Nancy Duarte is a writer and graphic designer who became a “presentation expert” after discovering that great storytellers tell stories that follow a similar structure. She compares Martin Luther King’s “I Had a Dream” speech with that of Steve Jobs introduction of the iPhone speech in 2007.
These TED Talks are good examples of creative storytelling for marketers who want to improve their skills and be a successful storyteller.
How to get a happily ever after in UX (or create a great UX)?
Building a story around your users to understand what motivates them, what makes their lives easier and what helps them achieve their tasks all adds up to create an awesome user experience. Use this story-telling framework by keeping your “heroes”, their “barriers” and their sought-after “destinations” in mind.
Creative storytelling is about using the given space to maximise efficiency. Thinking about the media is very important. Where and how the story is told, what the best possible medium is should be thought.
Ultimately, good creative storytelling is about understanding the brand and brand’s target market. Communications do not necessarily have to be demographically relevant, but they should be emotionally relevant. Creative storytelling should also be cohesive: the story and the message need to be channelled using every element of the medium. Colour, tone of voice, images, use of space, texture.
Story-telling is a very powerful tool to create meaningful and engaging online experiences. It’s your formula for putting together a UX happily ever after!