Using storytelling in UX design to its full potential can entice users, make their user journey easier and persuade them to convert
When designing mobile and web apps, there are plenty of ways to inject UX storytelling to create a memorable user experience. Whether it’s a parallax scroll that reveals a narrative, or data-heavy content that transforms numbers into a captivating story, storytelling opportunities are everywhere.
UX designers benefit from understanding the foundations of UX storytelling and how these foundations can be applied to create designs that will touch audiences and, hopefully, keep them coming back for more.
Children all over the globe have experienced the joy of getting into their pajamas, snug in bed ready to be read a story by their parents. Anticipation, intrigue and suspense all play a big role in keeping our attention on the story over the course of the book. Some of us couldn’t wait until bedtime. That’s the power of stories. Good stories even have you wanting more. The same method can be used when crafting user experiences. But how?
What is UX storytelling?
Storytelling is a way to capture your user’s’ attention. Stories are sad, happy, exciting, dramatic, funny and educational. A story can be used to enhance someone’s imagination, creativity and inspiration. In this way, stories are a vivid way of teaching and learning. By using metaphors, memories, narration and analogies, we can provoke an audience to think and engage with our designs. Essentially, user experience storytelling is a way of communicating.
A tweet, call-to-action, pop-up, animation, blog post or push notification are just a few ways in which UX designers can tell a story and influence user behavior.
According to Dan Gruen of IBM, stories are ‘a design communication tool that transcends cultural divides of multidisciplinary teams and intertwines a technology with its user’s goals’.
Already many of us use UX storytelling methods when we think about UX design. What are they?
- User personas
- User research
- Customer journeys
- Story maps
These realistic representations of your target users help you create the appropriate narrative and are easy to create. By understanding who you’re designing for through storytelling and contextualization, you can create meaningful user experiences.
Benefits of storytelling in UX design
- Makes information more digestible
- Can simplify complex ideas or actions
- Delivers a more engaging experience
- Can positively impact how users interact with your brand or product
A product walkthrough involves building a reassuring or informative story that makes your users’ lives easier as they first counter your app or product. It can have compelling imagery, copywriting, has a beginning middle and end (the famous 3 act structure) and taps into the emotions of the user, namely curiosity.
A parallax scroll can create a captivating experience, too. Coupled with animation, a parallax scroll used in web design gives the user control over how quickly and how much of the story they consume. It can be used to inform and educate and still build up suspense before reaching a crescendo, just like any good story does.
The fundamentals of storytelling in UX
There are several different definitions of storytelling but they can be boiled down to these 3 fundamentals, according to Sarah Doody:
Fundamentals in practice
In UX design, it can get more complex than that but it doesn’t have to be. Good user experience should solve a problem or create an opportunity that adds value to someone’s life.
Imagine a finance mobile app – what would the fundamentals be of this app?
Why – to help people with their financial life.
How – allow users to input their financial information.
What – budgets, spending tracking, investments, alerts, categorization
The most important fundamental is the why. Without knowing why you’re doing what you’re doing, there will be no real story to tell.
UX writing is a great way to build narratives. Check our introduction to microcopy.
Why use storytelling in your UX design
Most users will spend less than a minute on your page. In fact, you have roughly 10 to 20 seconds to convince users to continue browsing. Unless there’s a good reason for them to stick around, they’re gone before you’ve even noticed them. Not only that but users skim text so even if you’ve written a blog post that’s worthy of a Pulitzer, that won’t even captivate them.
It’s the wild west on the internet but that’s why storytelling is a powerful tool. Why?
- Stories can captivate, entice and retain users’ attention
Bombarding users with facts can turn them off and have them running to the nearest exit. But when you intertwine facts with a strong narrative, for example, you can boost engagement. One blog managed to do just that and engagement went up 300%.
- Stories are emotional
Stories tap into our emotions. Imagine for a moment that you’re on a webpage and something has gone wrong. You’re paying for something and an error occurred and before you know it you’re anxious about your bank details being exposed or a payment not going through. A friendly popup or dialog can put you at ease, assuaging any conflict you may experience. You’ve been rescued. It’s little UX solutions like this that can help users stay calm and see you as trustworthy.
Storytelling may not come naturally to most UX designers. But behind every design decision is an opportunity to create a narrative so that your users are captivated, transported, relieved…
Next time you open up Justinmind or Sketch, think about the true impact of what you’re doing and look for ways to inject a little story into your design so that designer and storytelling can live happily ever after…