Using Storytelling in Web Design

Photo from Unsplash/ via Jason Goodman

Storytelling is more than the books one reads or the TV shows someone watches while eating dinner. Instead, storytelling is everywhere, including web design. Each website shares its own story and has a main message to tell its audience. Knowing how to effectively use storytelling in web design creates better websites that are cohesive, focused, and are better able to complete the mission of the website’s company. 

What is Storytelling Web Design?

Even though you are working on a website, storytelling is just as important as deciding what fonts and images you will use. Focusing on the key elements of storytelling- characters, plot, action, and emotion- is incredibly important for engaging your audience and connecting them to your company. 

Good stories are:

  • Simple
  • Emotional
  • Truthful/Believable
  • Authentic
  • Valid

It’s about creating both the big stories and the small ones. Your overall website is the big story where everything comes together to become the face of the brand you are working with. The smaller aspects, like each page, are each a small story of their own. Even the visual elements of your website can be stories. Both the big and small stories are equally important. 

How to Become Better at Storytelling

It is hard to know where to start and even harder to know how to get better at storytelling. We want to give you five tips for storytelling so you can be the best storyteller you can.

#1 Determine the Big Idea

What message do you want to share? Come up with the one main idea that you want your audience to remember. This will become the focal point of your story.

#2 Get Out of Your Comfort Zone

Don’t play it too safe. By getting out of your comfort zone, you add tension and challenge to your story. This attracts the audience and makes them more invested in what you have to say.

#3 Be a Sculptor

You are shaping your story. Edit away all the fluff and flare that may currently be in your writing. This will reveal the core and help your website be focused. The core should be related to your big idea.

#4 Empathize with Your Audience

When you empathize with your audience, you connect with them. Your audience will become attached to your story and therefore your company. Emotions are a powerful tool to draw someone in and make sure they stick around.

#5 Practice

Finally, we can’t stress enough the importance of practice. Keep writing. Keep sharing your stories. Most of all, keep connecting with your audience. 

Storytelling is a Business Tool

Storytelling is a useful tool for creating and growing a business. It gives the user something to become attached to which furthers interest and loyalty to a business. 

“People are attracted to stories,” Quesenberry tells me, “because we’re social creatures and we relate to other people.”

Harrison Monarth from Harvard Business Review

Several experiments have been done about the impact of storytelling. In one of these experiments, the participants watched an emotional movie about a father and son. This movie increased the levels of oxytocin (a feel-good hormone) and cortisol (a stress hormone that helps a person focus.) 

After the participants watched this movie, the conductor of the experiment asked the participants to donate money to a stranger. Those with higher levels of oxytocin were much more likely to donate money to a stranger.

Now you know why so many advertisements use images of cute puppies, children, and other “feel good” symbols to try to jerk your heart to spending money. 

You don’t have to create visual advertisements to use the power of storytelling. 

Storytelling in Web Design is Created Through:

  • Testimonials
  • Imagery
  • About Us 
  • Who We Are
  • The way a product is described. 
Photo from Unsplash/ via Etienne Girardet

Of course, storytelling can be incorporated into any part of a website. The main idea is to create a personal connection with your audience and to give them the context, action, and result.

Breaking Down Your Story

The context, action, and result of your story can also be explained by using the three acts one often sees in playwriting. Here, you will have Act 1 as your hook, Act 2 be your build-up, and Act 3 be the payoff.

Act 1 – The Hook

Your hook is where things get started. This is where you give the audience member context for the story that you are sharing. In web design, think of this as what your user will see first. This is often the title and headline of your website.

Photo from Unsplash/ via Lewis Keegan

When you are writing your stories, use your hook to tell the reader what is going on. Give them the Who, What, Where, How, and Why.

Act 2 – The Build-Up

It’s time to get the story rolling. This is the meat of the storytelling you will write on your website. Show what your main character does, what they go through, and the consequences that they face. 

Don’t be afraid of showing the negative. Every character has to go through conflict, failure, and even some betrayal. Tell their story and get your audience attached by showing your character go through and overcome the obstacles they face. 

Act 3 – The Payoff

In Act 3 the character will reach the climax of the story. Hopefully, you have built enough tension and attachment to the character that your user will be on the edge of their seat. The character has to face everything that has led to this moment and overcome their final obstacle. 

This act also leads to the end of the story. What has your character learned? How have they changed? Your audience member should get something from this payoff as well. Use this message or lesson to push your audience to use your service on your website as they should be attached to your company by now. 

Seven Deadly Sins of Storytelling

Storytelling in web design can be challenging and some mistakes are often made. These mistakes lead to a payoff that isn’t quite what you would hope for and can hurt the business overall. 

#1 Excessive Throat Clearing

You want to get to your hook right away. Any time spent delaying your story is time that your audience might use to click away. Throat clearing is any writing you use that isn’t directly related to the story. You don’t have to tell us every personality trait your character has in the beginning, show us that later on.

Your audience should see a picture, feel the conflict, and become more involved with the story — they’re not receptacles for a series of facts.

Jennifer Aaker, Stanford GSB Professor

#2 No Emotion

It is easy to fall into what is called “professional boring mode” where if you are working in a professional context, you shouldn’t show emotion. Yet, emotion is what drives the story. You want to show emotion to engage the audience and make them feel something for your main message.

Who is the face of your company? People connect with people they see as real and can relate to. If your company does not have a face, find one. Introduce him or her with a bio, experiences, a role, and a challenge.

Jennifer Aaker, Stanford GSB Professor

#3 Too Much Information

Too much information is a bad thing. If your website is full of long and wordy paragraphs, it is overwhelming to read and deters the audience from continuing. You should also avoid using complex jargon. This puts a wall between you as the writer and the audience.

#4 No Rehearsal

With a presentation, not rehearsal leads to clunky sentences, stuttering, and makes it harder to get one’s point across. In terms of web design, your rehearsal is your editing. Look over your sentences and paragraphs. Does everything flow? Are there any big spelling mistakes or obvious plot holes in your story? Rehearsing will help you identify the problems so you can fix them.

#5 Living in the Abstract Space

Your audience will remember the details. Put your audience in the story so that they can hear, feel, and even taste the world you have created for them. 

#6 Not Knowing Your Audience

You wouldn’t want a chef teaching engineering students how to code. Know your audience so your story is sure to make an impact. Tell a story that will draw in your audience and appeal to their interests. Telling the story to the wrong audience is a sure way to lose the interest of the people reading your story. 

#7 The Non-Ending Ending

Just as a story needs a clear beginning, it also needs a clear end. Don’t write a weak ending that doesn’t tie all the plot points together and leave your audience with a clear message. Instead, you have to end strong. Have a mic drop moment. 

Resources Used

How to design a foolproof storytelling website (thenextweb.com)

5 Tips that Will Make You a Better Storyteller – IDEO U

The Irresistible Power of Storytelling as a Strategic Business Tool (hbr.org)

Use This Storytelling Framework to Craft Amazing Narratives | by Niklas Göke | Better Marketing

The Seven Deadly Sins of Storytelling – IDEO U

Business Storytelling – Using Stories to Inspire (mindtools.com)

Jennifer Aaker: The Seven Deadly Sins of Storytelling | Stanford Graduate School of Business

The Power of Visual Storytelling in Web Design: Engaging Users Through Compelling Narratives – noupe

This Post Has 12 Comments

  1. Hi Heather! This blog post was such a fun read for me! I think you formatted this beautifully, and the use of blue in the headings was very effective in making it visually appealing. Your use of plain language and compelling statements kept me engaged throughout the whole blog. Even though this is an informational article, I really feel like you were telling a story while talking about storytelling! You also provided such a vast amount of articles at the end that allow users to keep searching based on this story, and I really think that makes users want to keep researching like I did. I actually found this article that showcases the top 12 storytelling instances in advertising. I think that all of the companies shown are great examples of how effective storytelling enhances a brand and marketing campaign. This was a really interesting read and shows how storytelling can be perfected in the field of advertising. I hope this helps to show how it can be used to create a compelling and interesting advertisement in the media. https://www.askattest.com/blog/articles/12-top-storytelling-marketing-examples

  2. Hi Heather, your blog post is really well done! I enjoyed reading the content. The way you broke up the section “How to Become Better at Storytelling” is effective. The sections are bite size for the reader to digest, but include just the right amount of information necessary. Additionally, the “Storytelling is a Business Tool” section does the work of conveying the importance of storytelling and how influential it can be. Overall, you do a nice job of breaking the content up into the right size sections for readers. The content and tone of writing makes the blog post enjoyable to read, and easy to follow and understand. I found this website that highlights websites that effectively storytell, as well as different ways to storytell. https://www.vev.design/blog/storytelling-website/

  3. Hello, Heather. Your post on storytelling was very eye-opening. Some aspects I found valuable were your sections on becoming better at storytelling, and on the seven deadly sins. The third deadly sin (too much info) is something I find myself doing, so your advice was helpful. I also enjoyed your additional resources. I looked at a few and the info was really informative and will be good for our website project. Your overall format was also done nicely with properly used headings and lists. An additional post I found interesting is linked below. It gives examples of different websites that are really good at storytelling. I am a visual learner so I think seeing actual examples of how storytelling is being used is really helpful. The linked article really showcases some of the ideas that you have expressed in your own post. One example I really like is the “I Killed a Cactus” website. These examples are a little more abstract than our intended websites will be but it’s almost seeing storytelling to an extreme! I think storytelling mixed with the usage of prominent words like our reading this week discussed is a creative way to outline a website. Overall, I really liked your post!

    Link:https://orpetron.com/blog/13-most-incridible-storytelling-website-examples-you-must-check-out/

  4. Hi Heather! Great blog post. You do a great job of breaking down what digital storytelling is and providing useful dos and don’ts of storytelling. I especially liked the section “Breaking Down Your Story” and your discussion of “The Payoff.” It’s helpful to think about what you want a web user to get out of a website when planning the story you want to tell them. I regularly interact with IT at my job, and part of their planning process is to write “user stories” that describe new features they want to design and implement from the end user’s perspective. This article explains what a user story is and how to use it in further detail: https://www.atlassian.com/agile/project-management/user-stories

  5. Hello Heather, this was a very blog post surrounding the many ways of using storytelling in web design. Something I really admired about your post was the way it bullet points and lists within your content. This aspect of your structure was great at helping me understand some of your topics better with a simpler presentation. Your lists are also great for summarizing the ways you can become better at storytelling within these categories and use it in your own work. Another great element if your post was the sections discussing storytelling as a business tool in the work industry. This got me thinking about the different ways for using this as a way of starting your very own business. I ended up happening upon a site from Forbes that dives into the various ways of utilizing storytelling in the business world. The site is all about the power of storytelling in business. It’s like a guide on how to use narratives to build trust, differentiate a brand, create memorable content, increase engagement, and ultimately drive sales and conversions.

    Link: https://www.forbes.com/sites/theyec/2023/06/08/the-power-of-storytelling-for-your-business-unleashing-your-inner-storyteller/?sh=50a484057fe0

  6. Hi Heather! I really enjoyed your blog post this week! You did a really good job explaining how storytelling can look in the digital space, especially in a professional context. I really appreciated the way you structured your post as well. Starting by defining what storytelling in web design is, then going into how you can improve and what to think about, before culminating in the application of it and how to structure it was really effective, and showcased good story structure as well. I especially liked the section about how storytelling is used as a business tool. These days, everyone is trying to sell you something, whether it be a physical product or an idea. It was interesting to think about the ways companies use these techniques in order to get people to buy what they are selling. As a marketing major, I was curious to see ways this is used in marketing specifically. To that end, I found a post about the do’s and don’ts of storytelling in marketing. Once again, great job on your post!
    Link: https://blog.hubspot.com/marketing/storytelling

  7. Heather, I found your post very interesting! I appreciated that you started by explaining what exactly storytelling means in the context of web design, as I feel like it’s not something that most people know a lot about. Your entire post effectively combined different levels of headers, bullet points, and offset quotes to make the post quick and easy to understand. Your topic this week actually connected really well with one of my other classes, where we recently did a project that focused on storytelling within design. We watched a great TED Talk by Ashley Fell that discusses the importance of storytelling and what that looks like in the digital age, as we often have to compete with a lot of different things for a reader’s attention. You might have a topic or data source that is incredibly interesting, but if you don’t effectively tell a story with it, most readers won’t feel any connection to it.
    Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mSi0kmqOBu4

  8. Hi Heather, I found the layout of your blog to be very pleasant to read. Your use of headings with small body text sections underneath created a flow that kept me engaged throughout the entire blog. At a young age we are taught about storytelling and overtime learn what is deemed as a good story and what falls short. But your blog gives a refreshing view on what “good storytelling” truly entails. Being an advertising major who wants to pursue copywriting I am always thinking of the perfect way to make a story captivating to my target audience. Your post is helpful in perfectly outlining the steps I need to complete to get there. Here is a blog I found interesting pertaining to the science behind effective storytelling copywriting to further your research:
    https://sladecopyhouse.com/storytelling-copywriting/

  9. Heather,
    Your blog post does a great job of defining storytelling in web design. The tips for getting better at storytelling, like having a clear message and stepping out of your comfort zone, are super useful and something I can see myself referring back to. Your post also does a great job at showing how storytelling can help businesses by connecting with their customers emotionally. The “Seven Deadly Sins of Storytelling” part was a really effective way to introduce methods of avoiding common mistakes. To connect to your blog post this week, I decided to further look at how storytelling can improve social media engagement. This blog further emphasizes the importance of storytelling, applying it to social media accounts. Link: https://www.socialpilot.co/blog/social-media-storytelling

  10. Heather, I found your blog to be very informative and well formatted. I really enjoyed reading the seven deadly sins of storytelling, and it helped me understand what kind of things to avoid. I like how you tied the different elements of storytelling into a website application such as the hook being the title of the website. I connected this blog to a method of storytelling called “and but therefore” and its use in social marketing. The idea behind this method is to encourage the reader to continue using compounding information, then introduce a surprising element before tying everything together with the “therefore”. It goes along with intro, climax, and conclusion formats which we use in our websites.
    Link: https://www.formalifesciencemarketing.com/white-papers/life-science-stories-and-but-therefore/

  11. Hi Heather great post! Your exploration of storytelling in web design was really insightful.
    I liked how you rightly emphasized that storytelling goes beyond traditional mediums and plays a pivotal role in shaping the identity of a website. The practical tips provided for improving storytelling skills, from determining the big idea to empathizing with the audience, are valuable and a good intro to the topic. The emphasis on stepping out of one’s comfort zone and practicing regularly reinforces the idea that storytelling is a skill that can be developed over time. I also liked how you linked storytelling to business success. The reference to experiments demonstrating the effects of storytelling on oxytocin levels and subsequent behavior was an interesting illustration of the power stories hold that stuck out to me. I always like psychological analogies and seeing the effect certain things have on us. I found an article that goes more in-depth on the impact stories have on our brains. It explores how certain narratives engage various neural circuits, induce physiological responses, and even synchronize brain waves between storytellers and listeners which I think is cool.
    https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2020/04/11/815573198/how-stories-connect-and-persuade-us-unleashing-the-brain-power-of-narrative

  12. Heather, I think you did really well on this. Your blog was thorough and easy to follow. While you didn’t have a ton of visuals, you broke up the monotony with lists, headings, and small chunks of text, I found your blog one of the easiest to digest. I appreciate the attention to storytelling, as I’m sure not many people understand its importance to website creation and as a business tool. You using the usual parts of novels and book writing and linking it to website creation was something I really appreciated as someone who writes a lot. Also touching on the verbal presentation of the website was important. It was good to read before our final presentations, and for those who give business proposals to a board. Here’s a website that gave examples of good storytelling, I found a lot of your breakdown throughout these. https://alvarotrigo.com/blog/storytelling-website/

Leave a Reply

Close Menu