Editor’s note: the following is a guest post by Jenny Li, who spent this past summer with us as an intern. She is starting her senior year of high school, and will afterwards be continuing her education in a design/UX related field.
“In every culture all around the world, storytelling is how people connect with one another. State-of-the-art technology will change, but state-of-the-heart storytelling will always be the same.” With this statement, Greek-American film producer Sid Ganis sums up the significance of storytelling in today’s technology-centered age. Stories have been around since the dawn of communication, and there’s a reason they persist—stories are the most effective way of conveying a message to an audience of any size. Think of your favorite novel—the story and characters stick with you because the author has created a separate world that appeals to your imagination. We rely on stories as a way of making sense of life and we feel a strong attraction to the promises of a good tale. So if stories can capture both content and emotion in such an enthralling way, why not bring the power of storytelling to the field of web design?
Building the Foundation
We’ve all witnessed plans go wrong because of miscommunication, coordination mishaps, or unresolved disagreements—but the solution to these problems has been with us all along in the form of, you guessed it, stories. By providing a structural framework, a story allows web designers and developers to grow and nurture their ideas around a central theme.
20th century architect Louis Sullivan once said, “form follows function.” Once a framework is established, the ultimate mission is clearer and constructing the other elements of the story becomes easier. As a result of cohesive collaboration, all the elements of the website, just as in a story, serve to enhance the message. If this happens, then the central idea is clearly reflected in the users’ experience. Incorporating storytelling into web design provides a seamless and coordinated experience for your visitors.
Creating Emotional Connections
The aspect of storytelling I find most intriguing is its power of immersion. Whenever I pick up a book, it doesn’t take long before I’m unaware of my surroundings as I am buried within the plot. Much in the same way, a well-designed website has the same effect on me, and it’s not as strange and inexplicable as it may seem. Scientific evidence reveals that stories can change the brain chemistry – and therefore the behavior – of a person.
While that may sound like the beginning of a Stephen King novel, it’s been experimentally proven that stories can prompt the brain to release chemicals like oxytocin, which correlates to the emotion of empathy. By understanding the psychology of storytelling and design, web designers can achieve incredible results. This article at Web Designer Depot mentions a variety of design principles that amplify immersion, such as using familiar patterns to build trust or implementing color theory to trigger certain emotions. Our subconscious responses to things we find naturally appealing, like symmetry, has been dubbed by author Donald Norman (Emotional Design) as Visceral Design, or a gut-level reaction.
In 2011, psychology professors Philip Mazzocco and Melanie Green researched how the human mind processes information, namely how we can create our own “imaginary world filled with quasi-experiences”. Instead of taking a story at face-value, we form emotional connections beyond the context. This concept explains how we’re able to empathize with characters despite never having been thrown into a battle arena or diagnosed with a terminal illness. In web design, these principles can make for a truly compelling experience, and how you create your imaginary world is up to you. Like storytelling, web design is not just about what you say, but also how you say it.
Bringing a Story to Life
Because pathos, or emotional appeal, is so influential, many people crave the ability to become an integral part of the stories they experience. Simply put, people don’t want to just absorb information; they want to live it.
A year ago, the research consultancy Latitude conducted a study on transmedia storytelling, revealing that active consumers desired more in-depth interaction. The greater the opportunities people have to take part in a story, the more interesting the overall experience becomes and the more likely they’ll respond to the call to action. Sites such as Kickstarter, which has turned thousands of dreams into reality through crowdfunding, and Sevenly, which has raised over two million dollars total for a different charity every week, have shown that audiences are more likely to participate when presented with a story.
Website interactions not only engage a targeted audience but also provide a better understanding of content. In the past couple years, parallax scrolling has rocketed in popularity and creators of applications like Shadow are using it to craft convincing marketing sites. A person scrolling down the simple one-pager virtually experiences the momentary sensation of falling asleep before interacting with the functions of the mobile app. The “plotline” of the story might be simple, but the results of the brief interaction are tremendous: it converts visitors into customers.
Where We Stand Now
With evidence of the effectiveness of storytelling in all forms of media, it’s a wonder why more web designers aren’t taking this creative resource by the reins. The ingrained human desire for connection has been expressed throughout the centuries, and it’s more apparent than ever that storytelling has transcended the traditional medium and entered the digital age. By simply transforming our thought process into a developed story when building a website, we can create stronger connections with our audiences and revolutionize the way we communicate information on the Internet.
What’s your creative medium for storytelling? Has a story changed your perspective on a topic or prompted you to take action? Share with us below!