You’ve got a story to tell? Start designing it!
Storytelling is a strong tool we’ve been using since the early stages of communication. It helps us to combine fragments of information to understandable threads. When we talk about stories we always talk about the personal and emotional experience. Did I like the story? Were there some surprising elements I didn’t expect in first place?
When we compare this to the impressions of digital products we talk more about the functional aspects and aesthetics. When you try to touch a user with emotion, start to tell a story within your product!
In those situations the UI design should be the tool to access the story (content) straight forward and provide clear guidance during the storyline. Providing a story helps people to understand complex scenarios and translate dry data into a tangible experience.
The Google Spotlight Experience
Last month I traveled in the United States to do some design research for a current client project focusing the Bay Area. It was the first time I ever visited San Francisco and from the first moment I fell in love with the curiosity, the drive and passion everybody seams to have about design.
During my visit I had the chance to join a talk of Luca Prasso the tech art lead of Google’s Spotlight Stories. He shared detailed insights of the experimental path the team followed to translate storytelling in a new interactive and medial experience. One of the biggest challenges were to redefine a new systematical syntax to tell stories, as users now have the possibility to follow non-linear action strands.
After all I’ve kept two aspects and thoughts in my mind, that I want to share with you. They slightly shifted the way I think about my design and the relation between a product and a user.
Freedom and Restrictions: Finding the right Balance
At this point I should emphasis once more, that I am not a motion designer or film maker. I am a UI Designer at heart. But the inspiring concepts Luca explained, can be perfectly adapted to any design discipline for the gain of a more personal and emotional experience.
Setting the user in the center and design the story around.
With this sentence I don’t want to point on user centered design again. I really want to emphasis the idea of having a story all around the user. No matter if it’s a device or a virtual experience, new technologies changed the possibilities to tell stories. Whether we are watching a theater or our latest Netflix series, we are used to having the action centered and the audience around. During the storytelling we as user usually don’t participate that much and just follow — comfortably seated — the storyline.
Now with new technologies evolved this relation completely changed. Instead of having the audience around the story, users have the possibilities to interact with the story, change the action strands or define their viewpoints. Support the explorative aspect of your product and encourage the user to be curious.
Guide the user in a subtle manner to tell your story.
By setting the user in the position of a director, who defines the specific action strands themself, it can be hard to provide an understandable journey. With the possibility of user interactions the designer always needs to keep a balanced relation between freedom and restrictions to finally communicate the desired message. Especially in the context of non-linear storylines users might turn away from your core narration.
Sometimes it is better to just suggest the user the feeling of freedom, when you are guiding him through an experience instead. By using subtle hints you can guide the user to follow your defined path in natural non disturbing ways.
First the two concepts might seem contrary, but combined wisely they reinforced my design. I used those ideations in a recent project you can find here. Storytelling helped me to translate the complex refugee crisis into an emotional experience.
It is just the beginning
Every product has a story worth to tell. Keep the power of non-linear information strands in mind, which are the core power of digital experiences. You don’t have to make a Disney movie out of your next product, but at least try to create an experience, that is as fascinating to follow as their stories.
Thanks for reading! Please give me a shoutout on Twitter if you have any questions, if you have ideas for future topics you would love to see or simply liked what you have just read.
Thanks to Niko for your proofreading.