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The power of storytelling in web design

Stories are amazing things. Throughout time they have allowed people to make sense of the world, communicate information and connect with each other. They allow us to simplify complex situations and are a powerful way to persuade and educate. But more than this, stories allow us to create and share new worlds, and visit places we’ve never been. They have incredible emotional impact and the ability to make us laugh or cry.

Because of this, a good story is one that people remember and share. And if you’re designing a website, they can be liquid gold.

So how can you make your story effective? Drawing on traditional narrative technique, here are a few pointers to get your story off to a good start:

Setting

Images are a quick and effective way of communicating your story and encourage an immediate emotional link to your content. Photographs of people work particularly well, as do large, full-out background images, which help to ‘set the scene’ and the mood for your story.

Character

One of the main elements of a story is, of course, character. If your audience identify with and care about someone in your story, you are well over halfway to success. 

Your ‘character’ might be a cartoon person, an illustration or a real-life photograph of someone. It might be yourself, if you are telling your own story of how you and your brand came to where you are today. Whoever your character is, it’s important to do the following:

  • Give your character a name – this brings them to life and makes them more memorable
  • Use the same character consistently throughout your site, in both the way you describe them and in the images you use
  • Give your character emotions and human characteristics (even if they’re actually an alien or a dog!)
  • Make sure your character has something in common with your audience

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Plot

A story isn’t a story unless it goes somewhere. So it needs a clear beginning, middle and end. Unlike a novel, though, you haven’t got people’s attention for long on a website and so your story can’t be littered with subplots and secondary characters. 

Make sure that there’s some kind of problem or conflict, which is then resolved at the end. Keep it simple and you won’t go too far wrong.

Language

Your writing style and choice of sentence structure and vocabulary are crucial in getting your message out there. So if writing isn’t your specialism, hire a copywriter to write the words for you. Make sure they completely understand your brand, your history, your product and your audience – the more they know, the better they can get into the psyche of the reader and the more emotional impact your story will have.

Don’t forget that all the little words – the microcopy – affect your overall story too. Keep them on-brand and tie them into the story wherever possible to create cohesion.

Interactivity and social media

Interactivity allows your users to get directly involved and become part of the story. Whether you choose to do this by asking some questions on entering the website, by letting your visitor make choices through the story or by encouraging social media interaction, having this level of personalisation pulls your reader in and cements the emotional bond to your story.

Video

Using video is an effective way to combine language and visuals in a storytelling situation. When your audience can see someone’s facial expressions and body language, and hear their tone of voice, a story can become more persuasive and compelling. Be careful not to overload your site with video, though – less is more.

All good stories must come to an end, so let’s conclude by saying that a good story should seem like a gift. Yes, it might also work as a neat marketing tool and help to drive traffic, promote social interaction and boost sales, but for your audience, it needs to be fulfilling, engaging and entertaining for its own sake. It needs to be a gift that they can keep with them long after they’ve left the website. 

And if it’s a present they weren’t expecting, so much the better.

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