For as long as I can remember, I’ve always been fascinated by stories. I didn’t think this was anything special until one day when I was at a friend’s house to help him with a video game and saw him skipping through every bit of conversation and text like his life depended on it. I always make it a point to read everything in a video game that isn’t part of the tutorials, even when they’re not exactly what I’d call good writing, which became something of a problem now that a lot of video games now come with a well-realized world with no shortage of supplementary reading materials.
For me, stories have a way of turning the mundane into something fascinating when done right. There’s a reason why bedtime stories are usually sprinkled with moral values because children are more likely to take those values to heart this way. This idea of how an information or a message could be conveyed better to the audience when delivered through a story is a very important point in web development and it’s why businesses might want to consider implementing storytelling through their website in a technique known as a storytelling through design.
Crafting a narrative through design
I’m using the term storytelling somewhat liberally here as I don’t mean a story in the way of typical fairy tales but more of a short narrative that starts from point A at ends at point B. Take for example the short anecdote I included at the beginning of this piece that led me to the realization that I like stories more than the average person. It’s short, consisting of only one sentence, but it has the basic elements of a story with characters and a hint of development that had it been fictional, it could pass off as flash fiction, albeit a poorly written one.
There are multiple ways of telling a story and this is something the world of web development could certainly look at video games for inspiration. In 2019, storytelling isn’t something that should just be limited to writers, even web designers and developers have to figure out a way to craft a narrative around their website elements. This might sound daunting but there are actually simple things you could do that would help bring a storytelling element to your website, as would be explained in the following section.
Implement a chronological narrative in your website
To begin with, take a look at any Wikipedia entry of a public figure and you’re going to see their life and/or career outlined in chronological order. Taking advantage of the passage of time is the easiest way of crafting a narrative out of something and this is something that every business should be able to do no matter what field they are working on. Whether it’s your own company, your product design or your service record, you could use the passage of time with anything and create a story out of seemingly anything.
As a start, you could try tracking your company’s history from the beginning all the way through the current time and separate them with notable milestones as an introduction in your website. For professional services, you could also use the relationship history between your company and one of your clients and outline how you’ve helped them with their business during the course of a relationship. For product design, you could also chart the detailed history of how the idea for that product came about, the process behind the design and how that product has been updated over the years.
Find a way to involve the audience in the story
One of the most powerful pieces of poetry that I’ve ever known is by German pastor Martin Niemöller that describes the indifference of the German public that led to the rise of the Nazis. The oft-quoted version of the poem goes like this, “First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out; because I was not a socialist. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out; because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out; because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me; and there was no one left to speak for me.”
It’s an inescapable truth of the human condition that we are at out most engaged in an issue only when it personally involves us. It’s easy to sympathize with a story you see online but people aren’t likely to be compelled enough to act unless the story implicates us directly. Businesses can then take advantage of this by involving the users directly in the narrative you’re telling. A financial service company for example could ask some information about the users and then present them with an info on how much money they could save with some simple tips which could also help builds the credibility of your company.
Use gamification features to track users’ progress
In the digital game distribution platform Steam, there’s this thing called badges where users can earn a badge to raise their user’s experience and level up the way you typically do in video games. One of these badges, dubbed the ‘Pillar of Community’ asks user to complete several tasks in the platform and when enough tasks have been completed, that user is granted a badge until they could complete all of the tasks listed, after which they would be given the final badge.
It sounds simple, but this series of quests could be used to craft a narrative in the style of video games, hence the term gamification. Make sure however that the reward for doing these quests are proportional to the effort needed to complete these tasks. Gamification also does double duty as it can make the users feel personally involved in your website by crafting a narrative that is centered around them but it’s also not something that could be implemented in every website so try to experiment first.
Try to include emotions in your content
I listen to a lot of music and thanks to my experience; I am now able to separate between music that I found to be objectively good and music that I could personally connect with. It shouldn’t be surprising however that I tend to spend more time with music that falls in the latter group compared to those that strictly belongs in the former. Humans are an emotional creature and the best way you could form a connection with them is by appealing to their emotional core without being overly manipulative.