Content marketers have long preached the value of storytelling to help consumers connect with brands. Now, they’re beginning to learn exactly how to tell stories to reach and convert prospects into paying customers. But what marketers might not realize is that UX design has a story to tell, too.
Think about it: when you visit a company’s website, you get an impression of what the brand is all about based on the design and your experience using the site. A great experience draws you in and keeps you scrolling. A poor experience sends you packing to another site.
With more people multiscreening, it’s imperative that brands keep their design experience consistent across devices as well. Users engage with brands across multiple touch points, and each moment of engagement tells a part of a brand’s overarching story. UX design influences the way those interactions play out, thus influencing how consumers perceive your brand and its message.
Research shows that consumers have high expectations when it comes to their content experience. In a survey of over 12,000 consumers, Adobe found that two-thirds of Americans prefer consuming beautifully designed content versus plain content when they only have 15 minutes to spare. Globally, 59 percent of users prefer content that’s easier on the eyes.
Users are also impatient when it comes to user experience problems. Nearly 90 percent of global users will switch devices or abandon a site altogether when they experience an issue with content, such as slow-loading content, overly lengthy content, or content that doesn’t display properly on a particular device, Adobe found.
All of this signals that first impressions matter for your content strategy. Rather than thinking about web design as a vehicle for content that reveals a brand’s story, marketers need to think of website and user experience design as integral parts of the brand story itself.
Neglecting UX design can actually harm a brand’s reputation. One study found that design elements were a top reason as to why people didn’t trust a website (and, presumably, the company). Busy layouts, pop-out ads, small print, slow load time, and even boring web design contributed to mistrusting a site, Forbes reported.
For your next website redesign, consider these storytelling mechanisms to better convey your brand’s message.
If we’re talking about UX design as telling a story, then the design—like all good stories—should have a beginning, middle, and end. Map it out from the user’s point of view: what prompts the initial interaction with your brand, what develops thereafter, and how does a successful story end? What experiences will help the user navigate this story?
Extra Space Storage, for example, realizes most people are coming to its website to price storage units in a specific city. The first item spotted on the company’s main page is an easy-to-use widget allowing users to search locations; moreover, the bright colors, clean website design, and prominent contact info help establish the company as professional and customer-service oriented. But after that point, the user may have other questions that need resolution—like a tool to estimate how much storage space s/he needs, or the ability to talk with an agent (solved with a live chat tool). In “the story of your move,” the brand is providing tools to aid the decision making process, allay fears, and reinforce its authority in the space through competent design. The storybook ending is a fulfilled reservation.
Companies with more complex products and services will need to tell a longer, more complex story, with lots of engagement in the middle to get to the desired ending. Mapping out this journey from the customer’s point of view can help better approach that story from a design perspective.
Your brand has its own style and personality, and that voice should come through with your design, too.
Take Intercom, for example. Intercom is a customer messaging platform for sales, marketing, and support. Sound boring? Maybe. But the company’s website is anything but. Its main page describes what the service is all about through easy-to-understand illustrations and jargon-free text. Scroll down, and you get more details about the types of issues the product solves.
The text here is conversational and personal. While “business speak” may be a good fit for some brands, it’s certainly not required or even desirable in most instances. The best content is easy and natural to digest, just like having a conversation. If you want to tell a story, you want it to feel human, not robotic.
The advent of mobile and the process of scrolling downward through content has led to new, creative approaches to storytelling. Parallax scrolling is a web design technique where background images move slower than foreground images when scrolling, creating the sensation of a moving story.
A great example of this technique is on the Spokes Pedicabs website. The company offers pedicab rides as an alternative mode of transportation, and its site uses parallax design to mimic a ride itself. Users get info about the company as they ride through Oak Cliff, Texas. It’s a groovy effect that perfectly matches unique purpose of the company.
Similarly, the NASA Prospect website uses parallax design to simulate a journey in space. Scrolling serves as the story’s pacing mechanism, with more layers of the journey revealed as the user continues downward. The skillful illustrations and conversational text feel more like movies than web experiences.
Clutter is the enemy of good user experience, especially on mobile. When Sports Illustrated jettisoned its much-maligned website in favor of a cleaner, streamlined, and highly visual version, it was finally able to mirror the type of visual storytelling it’s known for in its print magazine. That functionality was missing in the previous version—to the point where the UX was actually impeding the magazine’s ability to tell a story, Editorial Director Chris Stone told Nieman Lab. “Right now, it’s not at the level at it needs to be from a functionality standpoint, from an aesthetics standpoint,” Stone said prior to the redesign. “We can’t begin to tell a new story without fixing our product.”
The new design marries “top-shelf functionality” with depth and breadth of content, according to the publisher. Users get a site that works perfectly on their laptops and smartphones and a portal to the in-depth sports coverage they’re looking for.
Oxide Design is another example of eliminating unnecessary clutter that distracts from the main message. Within seconds of landing on the company’s site, you know exactly what it’s about. Scrolling downward, the company lets images of its previous work tell its story, and a floating navigation tab makes it easy for users to flip to other portions of the site.
Website design and user experience can make or break the stories your brand wants to tell. A great design works in tandem with your content strategy, helping bring your brand story to life. On the other hand, bad design can send potential customers fleeing. For a happy content ending, brands should pay attention to how each customer touch point enhances their overall story and message, especially on the web.
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