Photo by Hümâ H. Yardım on Unsplash

Our lives are filled with stories, from binge-watching the newest Netflix series to sharing weekend stories with colleagues. Stories play such a big part in our lives that we often view our own lives as stories. The tales we share about our experiences can deeply impact who we are.

Throughout history, words have been a unique way for people to communicate. They help us remember a lot and let us feel like we’ve experienced something even if it hasn’t happened directly to us. Whether it’s around a fireplace or using stone tools, history shows us that sharing information through stories has always been a crucial part of human communication.

In the dynamic realm of User Experience (UX) design, where seamless interaction and intuitive interfaces reign supreme, the role of storytelling is often underestimated. However, the storytelling in UX design is not merely a trend; it is a strategic necessity that elevates user engagement and nurtures a deeper connection between products and their users.

User Interfaces (UI)are not merely a collection of buttons, forms and features; they are gateways to experiences. Storytelling injects emotion into the design process, enabling designers to create interfaces that resonate with users on a personal level.

Aristotle’s 7 Elements of Good Storytelling

Aristotle’s 7 Elements of Good Storytelling — Interaction Design Foundation

1. Plot: Crafting a Seamless User Journey

In UX design, the plot corresponds to the user journey — the sequence of interactions from entry to completion. Like a well-structured plot, a seamless user journey ensures that users navigate through the interface with purpose and clarity. By carefully orchestrating the flow of information and interactions, designers can engage users in a narrative that unfolds logically, creating a satisfying and meaningful experience.

2. Character: Designing User Personas as Protagonists

In Aristotle’s terms, characters embody ethical qualities. Similarly, in UX design, users are the protagonists. Crafting user personas adds depth to these characters, helping designers empathize with their needs and motivations. By designing with these personas in mind, the interface becomes a stage where users can fulfill their goals. This user-centric approach ensures that the design aligns with the ethical qualities and expectations of the target audience.

3. Theme: Aligning Design with a Central Idea

Aristotle’s concept of theme corresponds to the central idea or message of a story. In UX design, this translates to a cohesive theme that unifies the visual and functional elements. Whether it’s a sleek and modern theme for a tech product or a warm and friendly theme for a community platform, aligning design choices with a central idea enhances the overall user experience, creating a harmonious and memorable narrative.

4. Dialogue: Establishing Consistent Design Language

In the context of UX design, language refers to the visual and interactive elements that communicate with users. Consistency in design language is crucial, ensuring that users can interpret and navigate the interface intuitively. From color schemes to iconography, a coherent design language establishes a familiar and predictable environment, enabling users to understand and interact with the interface effortlessly.

5. Melody: Utilizing Visual Hierarchy for Emphasis

Melody in storytelling corresponds to the rhythm and harmony of the narrative. In UX design, this translates to visual hierarchy — the arrangement and emphasis of elements on the screen. By using techniques such as size, color, and placement, designers create a visual melody that guides users through the interface. This strategic use of visual hierarchy ensures that important information stands out, enhancing the overall rhythm of the user experience.

6. Spectacle: Enhancing User Engagement through Aesthetics

Aristotle’s spectacle encompasses the visual elements that captivate an audience. In UX design, this translates to aesthetics — the visual appeal of the interface. Striking visuals and well-crafted aesthetics not only create an engaging spectacle but also contribute to a positive emotional response from users. From stunning imagery to thoughtful animations, aesthetics elevate the overall user experience, making it visually memorable and enjoyable.

7. Decor: Implementing Logical and Intuitive Design

Decor is about the setting. Aristotle’s emphasis on reasoning in storytelling finds resonance in the need for logical and intuitive design in UX. Users should be able to reason through the interface, understanding its functionality without unnecessary complexity. Clear navigation, intuitive interactions, and thoughtful information architecture contribute to a design that aligns with users’ reasoning abilities, ensuring a smooth and efficient interaction with the product or service.

According to psychologist and UX strategist, Susan Weinschenk, stories are powerful because they more fully engage the brain. Stories engage the visual and auditory areas of the brain along with many others, which means when you listen to a story, your brain is active and engaged. This brain activity sustains your attention, makes the experience more enjoyable, causes you to develop a deeper understanding of the information communicated, and enhances your memory of it.

Embrace storytelling in UX Design to Enhance Memorability & Simplify Complexity

Memorability is a key factor in UX design, and storytelling is a powerful tool for creating memorable experiences. When users can relate to a narrative or scenario within the interface, they are more likely to remember how to navigate the system.

Mailchimp, the email marketing platform, employs storytelling elements in its user interface, making the process of creating and sending email campaigns memorable and enjoyable.

Mailchimp — User Onboarding I
Mailchimp — User Onboarding II

Complex information and intricate features can overwhelm users. Storytelling serves as a simplification tool, breaking down complex concepts into digestible narratives. Take the case of Google Analytics. Through storytelling elements such as goal-setting and conversion paths, users are guided through the complexities of web analytics, making it more accessible and user-friendly.

Freytag Pyramid — The Story Mountain

A really good way to tell a story is to use something called a story mountain. It’s like a guide that helps writers structure their story. Another name is the Freytag Pyramid, named after the German writer Gustav Freytag, who founded it in the 1800’s. He originally used it to depict a tragedy in five stages: introduction, rise, climax, return or fall, and catastrophe. In his version of the pyramid, the plot ends with a catastrophe; however, to relate this storytelling structure with UX design we would obviously like to come to a resolution or leave a positive experience.

The story-mountain template, adapted for UX stories — NN/g — NNGROUP.COM

Let’s understand the story mountain in the context of UX/UI design using the example of a mobile app for a fitness tracker.

Exposition or Introduction (Beginning of the Story Mountain): You start out at the bottom left of the mountain to establish your users and the setting. You introduce the user — the main character. In this example the user is fitness enthusiast who want to stay fit and healthy.

Establishing the Goal: The user’s goal is to track their daily activities, monitor their progress, and achieve fitness milestones.

Rising Action (Climbing the Story Mountain): You work your way up the mountain to communicate the problem your users face.

Introducing the Conflict: The user faces a challenge — finding a user-friendly fitness app with a clear interface.

Taking Action: The user searches for apps, reads reviews, and finally decides to try your fitness tracker app.

Climax (Reaching the Peak of the Story Mountain): You hit the top of the mountain — a turning point that shows how the problem has affected your users. Here, you can take our story in several different directions, depending on your goal.

If we wanted your audience to get excited with your concept and align everybody towards a shared vision, you would emphasize the benefits of your new fitness tracking app.

The Turning Point: The user experiences the app’s outstanding features, such as intuitive navigation, personalized workout plans, and real-time progress tracking. This is the climax where excitement and engagement peak.

Falling Action (Descending from the Peak): You head down the mountain, showing the steps that are taken to solve the problem.

Resolving the Conflict: The user successfully integrates the app into their daily routine, finding it easy and enjoyable to use.

Additional Features: The app surprises the user with extra features like social sharing, earning badges, and receiving motivational messages, further enhancing the experience.

Image by pikisuperstar on Freepik

Conclusion (End of the Story Mountain):

Resolution: The user achieves their fitness goals with the help of the app, feeling healthier and more accomplished.

Closing the Story: The user continues to use and recommend the app, creating a positive and lasting relationship with the product.

This fitness tracker app example illustrates how the story mountain aligns with the user’s journey. It starts with an introduction, introduces challenges and actions, reaches a high point of excitement, smoothly descends by resolving conflicts and introducing additional benefits, and finally concludes with the user achieving their goal and forming a positive connection with the app. The story mountain concept helps you to create a compelling and engaging user experience.

The Future of Storytelling in UX

Every UX designer has their own way of thinking about design. Using story in UX design is a way to streamline the design process for the designer, developers, stakeholders, and clients.

It’s like talking about how your product comes to life, from the ideation to the moment it’s out there for everyone to use. While designers look at this journey in different ways, storytelling is an easy way to understand users and what they want to do with your product or design. It’s a clear and straightforward way to understand and share the story of your product.

As technology continues to evolve, so does the role of storytelling in UX design. Emerging technologies like augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) offer new storytelling dimensions, immersing users in narratives that go beyond the confines of traditional screens. The integration of voice interfaces and AI-driven personalization further opens avenues for creating dynamic and personalized user stories.

In this evolving era of Gen AI impacting UX design, storytelling emerges as a timeless and indispensable tool. By infusing emotion, guidance, simplicity, and memorability into the user experience, you can create interfaces that not only fulfil functional requirements but also leave a lasting impression on users.

Further Readings:
Two Tips for Better UX Storytelling — NN/g
Your Brain On Stories — Susan Weinschenk Ph.D.
How to Create Effective UX Case Studies with Aristotle’s 7 Elements of Storytelling — Interaction Design Foundation
Storytelling — Interaction Design Foundation

THE SIGNIFICANCE OF STORYTELLING IN UX DESIGN was originally published in UX Planet on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.