Storytelling: What is it and what it can do for your app

Storytelling is a powerful thing. It’s an activity that has spanned generations and is present in nearly every culture across the globe. From pictures, paintings, oral traditions, movies, books and beyond, storytelling can take many forms. Now, this impactful way to share information has crossed into the digital realm and is changing the way designers and developers create today’s applications.

Using storytelling to boost the success of an application

Storytelling can make a big difference when it comes to user interactions with an application. The use of a story not only helps designers organize information and actions into a logical, easy-to-understand order, but also strengthens the connection users will have with the app. In addition, it can make more complicated details and activities much easier to digest and comprehend.

Stories are often integrated into the application development process using mockups that resemble the frames of a cartoon or film. This storyboard effectively lays out the narrative of the story, including every gesture taken by the user as well as the application’s response to that specific action. This maps out the entire app, from users’ initial login, to their progress through the system as they work toward completing certain goals.

This process helps create a story-centric design for the app, ensuring that the underlying story is the main focus throughout development.

Creating a connection

One of the biggest benefits of using storytelling to drive interactions is it forges a connection between the application and the user. Including a narrative that takes into account the user’s needs and preferences can help demonstrate that the development team appreciates these requirements and further highlights the app’s purpose to address them. However, this necessitates that designers establish this understanding in the first place.

Experts have noted the advantages of interacting with users during the development process, and storytelling is no different. In order for users to see themselves and their inclinations reflected in the story, developers must identify these needs and be sure they are included in the initial storyboards.

Why storytelling makes a difference

Narratives are appearing in a larger number of apps currently, and for good reason. This approach can help drive the success of an application thanks to a few critical benefits:

Developers: Examining the app through the user’s eyes

One of the biggest advantages of using storytelling in an app is the fact that the process forces the design team to examine the app from the user’s point of view. The initial storyboard process enables the design team to consider users’ interactions and the overall experience being offered through every phase of the narrative. In this way, designers and developers can put themselves in the user’s shoes, and leverage this vantage point to improve the story of the app, as well as the user experience.

This helps bring a more human element to the app development process. As opposed to creating a simple program, designers are working toward establishing an experience for users.

  • Bringing the team together
     The process of establishing a narrative for the application can also serve to bring the design and development team together in a collaborative fashion. Storytelling is a group activity, and can not only help users forge a connection with the app, but can create a spirit of teamwork among developers as well.
  • Organizing information in the best way possible
     Storytelling can also bring order to an app, which is particularly helpful when the project is more complex. A complicated process that demands a lot from the user is made easier when it is presented in a simplified, story context. And because stories provide a familiar framework, it can help put the user at ease. Psychologists have noted that storytelling can also provide a safety net — although a story might include intense emotions or difficult situations during the height of conflict, the story will end with a resolution to the problem presented.
  • Suspending disbelief: Eliciting an emotional response
     A narrative element is one of the best ways to not only connect with users, but persuade them towards certain initiatives in a way that facts cannot. A story can drive the user toward a desired conclusion, and make them feel as though they’ve reached this resolution on their own and that their journey through the app was a success.
     Overall, stories can help bring out emotions in users. This not only makes them feel more connected with the app, but makes their interactions with it increasingly meaningful.
  • Driving engagement
     Storytelling is also an important element to drive engagement. A story helps keep the brain engrossed in the activity of the app and can help trigger the user’s imagination. This keeps the user involved and prevents him or her from becoming disinterested.
  • Defining goals
     In addition, mapping out the app’s actions can ensure that developers are on the same page as far as their goals for the initiative. In this way, the team doesn’t get ahead of itself, and works to establish the app’s overall story arches before it moves on to the smaller details.
     This recognition of goals shines through after the app is completed as well — users benefit from understanding what is being asked of them, and are more inclined to work toward a goal.
  • Making an app more memorable
     Stories can also be used to make an application more memorable. As opposed to a seemingly random collection of facts and activities, a story can tie actions together and spark creativity and awareness within users. Overall, a story can make more of an impact with the user audience, helping them to remember their interaction with the app long after they’ve stopped using it.

Storytelling is not only beneficial for the development team, but ensures a stronger connection between the app and its users.


Originally published at blog.makingsense.com on February 24, 2016.

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