Be More Human: An Approach to Web Design and Storytelling

Insights Posted on — 11.14.2012

Be More Human: An Approach to Web Design and Storytelling

It’s not exactly a newsflash to say that we now live in a time in which having a successful brand or business largely depends on your ability to communicate online.

Designer Notepad

The functional quality of your site and the nature of its content are paramount, and your ability to communicate with your audience is the key. Does the imagery on your site resonate with your primary target market? How does your brand’s messaging tie into your social strategy?

At BASIC, we build great websites on two learned truths - that the Internet is an interactive channel and that the end user is a human. By combining those truths, in other words, a great website is meant to be an experience. And as with any memorable experience, a little strategic thought is needed to ensure that it is enjoyable.

When designing a website in today’s search-savvy, online environment, it’s easy to forget that the person on the other side of the computer screen is just that, a person. To further explain this point, we can look at one aspect of website design that is often overlooked, yet critical in storytelling - messaging.

Today, people do a lot less reading and a lot more scanning. So it is crucial to be able to quickly communicate what’s important about your brand to them - Who you are, what you do and why that matters (thanks Matt). They want to know that your business understands them, their interests and how they process information. Take the time to find out who they are and what they like. Then, after you have an initial understanding of the person you are talking to, tailor your message and design to suit them. Just think about how this would translate to real life - how would you initiate a conversation with a stranger at a party? You wouldn’t just walk up and start spouting off random facts and irrelevant stories about yourself. If you wanted any chance of them continuing to talk to you, it would probably be a good idea to listen intently to what interests them and then sculpt your conversation accordingly.

A good example of a website that does this well is USA Today. Most news websites today are increasingly rising to the challenge of presenting information in the most creative and engaging way possible, but USA Today really sets the bar for their space. In the not-too-distant past, a “breaking story” would have been a single page of written text. Now, these breaking stories make people feel like they are actually there where it’s happening, enhanced with video and alternate ways to view the story, including interactive timelines, streaming web-cam, animation, sound, and social commentary from previous readers. These elements increase engagement and give the audience a broader and deeper understanding of the topic and the issues that surround it.

So now that we have discussed one brand that is doing a great job of truly engaging their audience, let’s bring the focus back to Being More Human. With that approach in mind, we have found that it’s important to harness one of the oldest and most effective ways of communicating knowledge – storytelling. Storytelling is a compelling way to truly involve the user in a design, evoke an emotional response, or enhance a user’s learning experience. As a team, we always try to dig deeper, hold each other accountable and push ourselves to constantly elevate the level of creative. And internally, we continually ask ourselves this question: “Is there a more creative way to present this?”

One of the best things about telling stories online is that they can be non-linear - users can click to view fragments of information that interest them, rather than viewing the entire story from beginning to end. By telling a story that changes through user interaction, the user is provided with the ability to choose their own path depending on their needs. This type of control is what is expected these days. And for brands, it all goes back to how you try to interact and engage your consumers – if people sense that you are not interested in who they are and what they like, that is going to be the end of the interaction and most likely the relationship. Listen first, develop an initial understanding, and then go from there.

Now all of this is just the tip of the iceberg, and we could go on for days about how messaging is critical in both web design and storytelling. There is far too much information to cover in one simple blog post, or even ten for that matter. But if there are two takeaways from this post, they are this: always remember that the end user is just like you, a human; and in order to effectively communicate with your audience online, your brand needs to do more than put up a website and walk away - it needs to ultimately create a memorable experience.