Storytelling is an ancient art form used to inform, entertain, and enchant audiences for thousands of years. It is now being used in UX design to create engaging experiences that echo with users long after they have left the interface. Storytelling in UX design is the art of using stories to create empathy with users and guide them through their digital journey with meaning and purpose. This requires understanding users’ needs and desires, and then using storytelling to address those desires in a creative way that crafts a deeper connection between the users and the digital product or service.

By making users feel like they are deeply connected to a digital product/service, UX designers can evoke the right emotional responses and improve user engagement at every stage of their digital journey. That is why storytelling is a powerful tool that designers must leverage to transform routine digital interactions into extraordinary, unforgettable experiences. Here we will highlight the characteristics of efficient storytelling in UX design. We’ll also provide tips on how to use storytelling in UX design to create more engaging and memorable digital experiences.

Storytelling in UX Design: Making the User the Hero of their Digital Journey

To leave long-lasting impressions, product-user interactions need to go beyond mere satisfaction. These interactions should make users feel something at the emotional level. That is because users who are emotionally engaged with a digital product are more likely to become repeat visitors. For example, users are more likely to feel connected to books/movies that have main characters that they can relate to on a personal level. Similarly, digital products that make users feel like they are the main characters succeed in building long-term connections.

With the careful use of storytelling, UX designers make their users feel engaged and motivated throughout their digital journeys. Take Duolingo, the renowned language education app, as an example. On this app, every user is a ‘main character’ as they begin their digital journey with a clear objective- learning a new language. During the journey, the user will face many challenges like understanding new terminologies or making time for daily lessons.

The designers of the app leverage storytelling to help users navigate through these challenges engagingly and memorably. The app provides users with bite-sized and visually appealing lessons, regular reminders in the form of creatively designed notifications, and interactive exercises that make users feel like they are part of a bigger story. These subtle, design efforts give users a sense of genuine achievement (not just satisfaction) every time they spend time using the app and make some form of progress:

Designers use different types of narrative frameworks and tools to efficiently incorporate storytelling in their designs. These story-based frameworks help them create engaging user experiences that resonate with users on a deeper level, beyond simply satisfying their needs. The Hero’s Journey is one such narrative framework that designers often employ to connect with their target audiences on a deeper level.

Developed by Joseph Campbell, the Hero’s Journey framework is a storytelling template that has been used for decades to create engaging narrative arcs in movies, books, and UX design. By following its clearly defined stages, designers can easily create empathetic and engaging user journeys that make users feel like the main characters of their digital journeys. The designers of Duolingo have effectively used the Hero’s Journey framework to deliver engaging and user-centric learning experiences. Here’s how Duolingo’s UX design can be mapped to the Hero’s Journey framework:

By using storytelling in UX design and effectively employing the Hero’s Journey narrative framework, Duolingo has been able to differentiate itself from its competitors and become the leading language learning app in the world. But, that’s not enough.

How to Use Storytelling in UX Design

A captivating narrative that keeps the user at the center of the design is essential for creating engaging digital products/services. But, it is not enough. For UX designers, understanding the user has to be the primary starting point. Unless you understand your target user, you cannot design a narrative that makes them the hero of their journey. That is why professional UX designers employ “user personas,” a valuable tool for understanding user needs and demands.

User personas are fictional characters that represent the different types of users who might use the product/service being designed. UX designers base these personas on market and user research. These fictional, yet fact-based personas help designers understand what their average user needs and wants from their designs. This understanding allows designers to create human-centered products with design solutions that sincerely cater to users’ needs.

For example, Spotify creates user personas based on listeners’ music preferences/habits. These personas help them offer personalized notifications and curated playlists to large sets of users. These design efforts help the app deliver superior user experiences compared to other apps.

By using personas, designers first get to determine their target user’s preferred visual, design, and communication styles. They also get to create more personalized narratives that closely resonate with the users’ motivations, objectives, and pain points.

User Story-Mapping

A user story map is a visual representation of a user’s narrative. Let us say you are designing an app that simplifies the process of depositing checks for checking account holders. Your design should encourage checking account holders to use your app to deposit checks, instead of going to the bank. The user story map should document all the steps that the target user would take to achieve this objective. These steps include: logging into the app, kickstarting the deposit process, taking pictures of the checks, and entering the final transaction details.

Here’s a well-crafted user story map that visually represents all of these different stages in the app user’s story or journey:

This basic storyboard highlights the key interaction-points in the app user’s journey. UX designers create and build upon such storyboards throughout the design process. The end result is a user journey where each sequence of actions leads to an overall narrative where the user successfully achieves their goal.

Use Typography, Imagery, and Color Design to Convey the Mood of the Story

Typography, imagery, and colors are fundamental visual tools that can be used to make a design narrative even more emotion-evoking and complementary to the user’s journey. Designers must choose a font that matches the mood/tone of the UX design story they’re trying to narrate. For example, serif fonts look more traditional and are better-suited for UX design stories that need to be trustworthy or authoritative. Sans-serif fonts are modern and are better-suited for more fun and creative design stories. Designers must also use illustrations, photographs, and digital art that complements the UX story.

Seamless Transitions

To create a seamless story-like experience, designers must make the transitions between all the pages/screens on the design fluid and coherent. When you are narrating a story, you want it to flow smoothly from one point to the next, without any irritating interruptions. The same is true for UX design. When users move from one screen or from one interaction to another, the transition should be seamless, fluid, and clear.

Animation is a great tool for creating such transitions. It can be used to guide users and enhance the overall feel of each on-page interaction. For example, many mobile apps come with the “pull-to-refresh” feature. When you pull down on a page/screen to refresh the content, the app displays an animation that shows the content being refreshed.

This animation informs the user that their action is in progress in an engaging way. Even subtle transitions like going from one section of the menu to another should be packed with engaging micro-animations. For example, let’s say you’re hovering over the navigation menu on a website. The color of each option on the menu should change as soon as you hover over it. These subtle design decisions contribute to the overall design story and help create intuitive user experiences.

Keep Improving

Like all aspects of the design process, the process of storytelling in UX design needs to be constantly refined. Designers must constantly conduct research on their target audiences to understand their likes/dislikes about the design story. They must test different versions of their design stories to see which one resonates the most with their target audiences. They must keep conducting surveys and user tests to make evidence-based adjustments to their design stories.

For more in-depth guidance on how to leverage the power of storytelling in UX design, get in touch with Design Studio’s professional UX storytellers. From creating engaging user onboarding flows and tutorials to creating digital designs that express compelling brand stories: these professionals can do it all.

Originally posted on

What is Storytelling in UX and How to Use It? was originally published in UX Planet on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.