'Storytelling can make sure that we capture a user's attention': Anna Dahlstrom on why UX designers have to be storytellers too

"A good piece of design has a narrative and clearly tells a story...there needs to be a narrative," stated designer Anna Dahlstrom while discussing the role that storytelling should have in UX design.

Speaking at UCD 13, the freelance designer and founder of Byflock spoke about the need for designing online experiences around storytelling.

"We as a species are addicted to stories," she opened, explaining that her father is a writer who always read stories to her as a child and, looking back at the role that stories play in history, have “always played a really big part."

She highlighted that storytelling had become a buzzword in recent times, with brands all looking to tell their stories.

"If we don't have stories to tell our customers and our users then we might as well pack our bags and leave...it's not just a buzzword, there is something in it," she added, before going on to state that psychologists had concluded that people’s decision making and information processing was affected by storytelling.

"It is an integral part of the design process itself," she Dahlstrom. "There are different ways to tell and communicate stories, but with every single way that we do it there is the potential of a bit of magic to take users on a journey to a different world somewhere.”

"Storytelling can make sure that we capture a user's attention" and drive them to click on the desired links on a website, she claimed before highlighting the standard three act structure for story writing, which she said was also relevant in design; capturing the imagination, the dynamic of the story where an event changes it, and offering an element of surprise.

“There should be some plans in place to capture the user's journey, but we don't know what will capture their attention and where they want to go. It's about us making sure that the story that we want to tell, when it comes to the user, the content might not be in their story. So we have to consider how we tell our stories as well," she explained, stating that she had recently seen some interesting methods of 'non-linear storytelling' that would match different types of content including typography and images.

Dahlstrom recommended mapping experience journeys to try to understand what they are doing while on a site.

"By plotting out our journey we can start to identify the key points for our visitors and help prioritise things....and another thing is where we can remove barriers and figuring out what we need to do to remove those barriers."

The rise of social media has made a user's journey much less linear now too, she added, "wherever users land we must be able to pick them up at that point and continue their journey to tell the story of who are what they can do while there" to drive them to what they are looking to achieve.

"It's also about delivering the right content at the right time and in order to do that we need to decide what we want to say and what we want our users to do as a result of that...there are so many different types of users and different variables and what we have to do is understand our main types of users and what makes them specific and identify the type of content they are after."

She stated the need to be able to adapt, with returning users being "one step ahead" who will want to jump to the end page sooner.

When it came to additional marketing formats for a page, such as email marketing, she stated that from a storytelling point of view "everything needs to tie together" and not to categorise things into silos, with the same being true of multiplatform experiences.

"When we are talking to people, there needs to be a narrative...what is the story we are trying to tell? What is the journey? Where do we want them to go?" said Dahlstrom.

UCD 13 is the second year of the not-for-profit conference that aims to discuss user centred design.

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