Storytelling for a Better User Experience

5 min readJan 5, 2016

The way we consume and communicate information has changed. In today’s over-populated online landscape, we face a daily barrage of regurgitated information, fragmented and delivered through constantly-evolving technology.

With this level of digital saturation, how do you differentiate your website, products or services and create a truly meaningful user experience? Well, one of the most effective ways to build a connection with your users is to utilize storytelling.

Stories are at the very core of human understanding; they’ve been around since the dawn of communication and their purpose has remained largely the same — to entertain, to inform, to educate and to share common experiences.

Stories unify and clarify often complex ideas into something tangible and universally understood because they appeal to something more than just intellect, they appeal to our emotions. Building a real human connection is the best way to engage your users and is the strongest motivation for action.

“The web is not a global network of connected computers. The web is a global network of connected people. And storytelling is still the most effective way to emotionally impact people.” — Curt Cloninger

UX designers are faced with the task of building a positive, meaningful and memorable experience for their users through visual communication, design and all the facets of interaction. Utilizing a storytelling framework allows UX teams to instil real meaning into their design decisions by bringing together many complex elements into one unified idea or goal.

The framework itself consists of applying the components of storytelling to the development of your products or services. The greatest, most compelling stories follow the same basic structure: typically there’s a ‘hero’ who has to go through an ‘obstacle’ to get a ‘treasure’. That’s it. Have a think about your favourite movie, if you condense it down to the very basic elements, you’re likely to find this structure. These same basic principles can be applied to the process of UX design to craft a meaningful experience for the user.

Who is your ‘hero’? (a.k.a. who is your user?)

Know thy user, and you are not thy user.” — Arnie Lund

Defining your target personas is the crucial first step in designing anything. Without knowing exactly who you’re talking to, you’re not going to design effectively for the right people. By building a narrative around your target persona, you’ll be able to empathize and understand what they want and need on a much deeper level.

Describing your user as you would a character in a story gives you the chance to explore who they are in more detail so you can ‘speak’ directly to them. Get as specific as you can using a combination of gathered data and informed estimations about behavioral patterns, shared challenges/pain points and goals.

By building a fictional representation of the user based on real data, you give greater meaning to what you are trying to achieve. It all boils down to empathy; think about it, it is much easier to understand your user when you have a solid idea of who they are rather than a set of data and statistics alone. Empathy is the key to designing a meaningful user experience and it starts with understanding who your user is.

What is the ‘obstacle’? (a.k.a. what problem is your user is trying to overcome?)

“If you want to build a product that’s relevant to people, you need to put yourself in their shoes. You need to write the story from their side”Jack Dorsey

All too often, design teams focus on the what and the how (i.e. the solution) without really considering the why (i.e. the factor that drives the user’s decision-making). So to ensure you are providing the best possible solution, you must first understand the struggle that your user is facing or the problem they are trying to overcome.

Design can often be seen as an almost clinical process with features and guidelines when really there should be thoughtful consideration on why the product or service you’re designing is needed in the first place. Once you have defined who your user is, you must then understand what it is that motivates them and what their pain points are. Again, being able to empathize with their struggle is the best way to find a solution for it.

What is the ‘treasure’? (a.k.a. how will your solution add value to the user?)

“Like all forms of design, visual design is about problem solving, not about personal preference or unsupported opinion.”Bob Baxley

Any good product or service solves a problem of some kind for its user. Getting a true understanding of what the problem is and what solving it would mean for your user will give everyone on the team a sense of the goal you are working towards. Having a unified understanding of what ‘success’ looks like will add meaning to the process and ultimately result in a better experience.

It can be easy to get caught up in the small day-to-day tasks and forget the larger purpose behind what you’re doing. Defining the value that your solution will bring to your user gives you a greater understanding of how it will be used in the real world and what the ideal outcome is. Knowing how the story ends gives meaning to the journey.

Building a story around who your user is, what their motivations are and what success looks like for them will ultimately help you build a more positive user experience. Utilizing a storytelling framework within the design and development process means you are always working with the user in mind and working towards their goals.

Storytelling facilitates understanding and will give everyone on your team a unified sense of why what you’re doing matters to your user; designing with this level of empathy is the key to creating a meaningful experience.

Have you utilized a storytelling framework successfully in your team? Let us know.




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