We live in a world saturated with stories, then one day along came the web and suddenly anyone could design, write for and contribute to a mass of websites, and storytelling got lost in the mix.
This needn’t be the case though. Storytelling is the most powerful way of organising and communicating information so it lends itself nicely to the web, we just have to think of more appropriate ways of telling stories online and this can be achieved in several ways.
Know your story and your audience
Don’t assume you know your audience. Invest the time in finding out who is visiting your site and what their goals will be. Once you know this you can think about the story you want your site to tell.
For a small design studio for example, it might be the story of how the company came to exist and the work they do and the people they do it for. Every business has a story to tell.
When you are clear about the audience and story you will be able to tell it in the most appropriate way.
Vital to any project is thinking about the story at the beginning, it is too late when you reach the end or when design visuals are signed off, the story should be part of the process from conception to implementation.
The words you use and how you use them
Once you know your audience and story you can then convey this literally in the words you use. There doesn’t have to be a strict narrative but consideration to the actual words, the tone of voice and accounting for any cultural, political, or social factors will help with your storytelling.
However, with the web we often have to be succinct in our copy and tone of voice can be misinterpreted or hard to convey so the second strand to storytelling on the web is the design itself. For designers they have a story to show as well as one to tell.
Designing the story
If you have a brand or are developing one as part of your project then it can help tell the story. Key to branding are business goals and how they wish to be represented.
Typefaces, logos and colours communicate all of this, and at the heart of it all are the brand values.
Typography is also an invisible communicator. Different typefaces connote different meanings and values.
You only have to look offline at the mastheads of newspapers to see how their typefaces are representative of the type of reader.
Colour is an extremely powerful communication tool. Colours can have cultural, political and social meanings behind them and the moods and qualities that they connote can help tell your story.
If you are writing a case study relating to a project you did for a local farm shop for example, then colours linked to nature such as green and brown would help in your storytelling.
Ed: For more on how colour can communicate meaning read Rob’s article from October 2009
Signposting is an article in itself but having signposts throughout your site that will help the user navigate and achieve their goal, is all part of telling your story.
It is important that your user knows where they are (the present), where they have come from (the past) and where they are or can move to next (the future). These three tenses are also linked to the old adage that every story has a beginning, middle, and an end.
Imagery, when used in the right way, can tell far more than many words. If you choose the right image and put it in the right context then this can enhance your story.
Storytelling is the best way to emotionally connect to people. We all have stories in common so instead of listing facts and figures on your website, tell the story behind them. Instead of listing projects and clients, tell the story behind them.
An advantage to storytelling on the web is that because of the interactive possibilities and the fact that user’s can enter your story at different intervals, you don’t need a linear narrative, you can get creative, and that is after all one thing that both stories and the web needs, creativity.
A complex weave
If we think of all the individual elements discussed above as the thread, when we weave them all together we end up with the story. There are more strands to this than my word limit will allow me to mention so if you have your own storytelling process or ideas then please share them in the comments below.