Your constantly-updated definition of Storytelling and collection of videos and articles

What is Storytelling?

Designers use storytelling to get insight into users, build empathy and reach them emotionally. Designers create personas to represent target users and add conflict to stories that reflect their user journeys and problems. Crafting stories, designers can better understand what users want from a solution.

See why users love stories.

How Storytelling Works in Design

Good stories always captivate audiences. In user experience (UX) design, you use storytelling throughout the design process to ensure that all work focuses on the users’ needs and the value you want to give those users. After completing design research to understand your users’ needs and desires, you use your insights to tell a story about who your users are, what they need and how you’ll provide that. This story makes it easy for everyone involved in the project to empathize with the users and ensure their work matches the story. Having a story throughout your project means marketing the design at the end of the design process is also straightforward, as you already know exactly which story to tell to show how your product provides value.

“People think that stories are shaped by people. In fact, it’s the other way around.”

—Terry Pratchett, Famous fantasy author

What Makes Good Stories?

The renowned philosopher Aristotle wrote extensively on storytelling. His formula is a checklist for what your stories should contain.

  1. Plot: What are users trying to achieve/overcome?

  2. Character: Who are the users:—not just demographically, but what insights do you need to understand what they (and their needs) are truly like?

  3. Theme: How can you establish a trustworthy presence to them and still set yourself apart from competitors? How will you reflect the overall obstacles users must overcome?

  4. Dialogue/Diction: What will your design say to users, and how? Does a formal/informal tone match their expectations? How much text is appropriate?

  5. Melody: How will the overall design pattern appear pleasant and predictable to users, moving them emotionally?

  6. Décor: How will you present everything so the graphics match the setting the users can sense? Would a classic design or stylized, niche layout meet their expectations?

  7. Spectacle: How can you make your design outstanding so users will remember it?

How to Reach Users Through Stories

You can use storytelling in your design process to present your user research results in an engaging way and create empathy with your target users. This will help you steer the design process and keep it user-centric. New technologies like Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) are particularly impactful for storytelling. Here’s what you can do:

  1. Define your target users with personas: to envision users’ likely experiences and gain empathic insights. Personas are based on user research but tell a story about your insights. An example persona might be “Rick,” a 47-year-old manager struggling with his work–family-life balance. He even works on his train commutes. Feeling drained, he wants better control of his life.

  2. Create a plot with conflict: to make the personas heroes and envision how they can overcome specific problems using your design. Make this a mapped-out journey or storyboard with each persona’s aim/s clearly defined. E.g.:

    1. Rick discovers your (yet-to-be-designed) time-management app online. He downloads it and completes your questionnaire about work commitments, family, outgoings, etc.

    2. He starts using your app, letting it collect data from his phone and fitness tracker about time on various tasks/activities, stress levels, alertness, etc.

    3. After a week, your app charts his tasks and activities, including sleep, heart-rate data, etc.

    4. Tapping a phone tab, Rick sees time-management suggestions on how to become more productive, well-rested, etc.

    5. He can continue or suspend monitoring (if on holiday/vacation or otherwise occupied).

  3. Give your design the supporting role: show it improving your persona’s/user’s life and how easy it is to use. For example, consider how many steps Rick needs to use your app and if voice-controlled devices at home might influence its suggestions.

  4. Work with the setting: When and where users use your design is vital for building empathy. For Rick, it’s the home, train and workplace. But what about (e.g.) busy professionals working from home?

  5. Tailor the look/feel: Your design’s appearance is vital regardless of its functional benefits, so design the most appropriate (e.g.) layout, colors, and typography. For example, Rick prioritizes an at-a-glance, easy-to-use design, but soothing colors complement larger fonts, etc.

Always Consider

  • The What: The user problem/s you define—E.g., They work too much overtime because of…? Budgeting problems at home?

  • The Who: The users themselves, envisioned through personas. This includes influential people in the main user’s/persona’s story. You can identify them using customer journey maps.

  • The How: Your story arc, with a beginning, middle and end. From introducing the player/s at the beginning, you build towards their biggest problems (which many factors can affect) and finish with the happy ending your design delivers.

Your story narratives are “magic mirrors”—proving fine-tuned empathy and connection with users’ values—where users discover how to make their own happy endings.

Ultimately, your design should predict your target users’ actions at every level possible. Testing will help confirm how successful it is.

Learn More about Storytelling

Take our course featuring storytelling An Introduction to Interaction Design for Usability

Explore place-based storytelling in our course UX Design for Augmented Reality.

Read an in-depth, example-rich treatise on storytelling Storytelling for User Experience.

Discover storytelling’s importance for apps in The Art Of Storytelling Around An App — Smashing Magazine.

Read UX designer and product strategist Sarah Doody on the value of storytelling Why We Need Product Storytellers At The Heart Of Product & Technology – Sarah Doody.

Find helpful insights about visual storytelling in Visual storytelling for UI-UX design with examples.

Questions related to Storytelling

Why Storytelling is important in UX Design?

Storytelling in design is pivotal as it bridges the gaps between users and products. Storytelling evokes emotions, guiding experiences beyond mere functionality. Stories evoke empathy, connections, and understanding. They help convey brand identity and make memorable impressions. 

Storytelling in UX provides context, painting a rich picture of a scenario from a user’s perspective. . Not only does it capture attention, but it also enhances engagement and retention. Designers create intuitive experiences that stick in users' minds by composing tales. Therefore, storytelling in design isn't just superficial - it's about crafting compelling, user-centric journeys that leave lasting impacts.

What is storytelling for business?

Storytelling in business involves using narratives to convey a brand's message, values, or purpose engagingly. It is more than simple data or facts. It creates an emotional connection with customers, employees, or stakeholders. 

Businesses can use storytelling to communicate their journey, successes, challenges, and aspirations. The story is what sets the company apart from its competitors. Storytelling can be a part of marketing campaigns, presentations, internal communications, or shaping the company's culture. Ultimately, storytelling for business is a powerful tool to drive engagement and achieve business objectives.

What is storytelling in UX design?

Storytelling in design presents a fun and exciting story to help people understand and enjoy using things like apps or websites. It's about making these things easy to use by creating a clear and engaging user journey. A good story helps users connect with what they're using, making it more relatable and satisfying. 

This master class webinar, “Storytelling in UX,” by Fernando Hereñu, Product and UX Design Lead at The Walt Disney Company, can help you learn why storytelling is so significant in the human experience.

The article The Power of Stories in Building Empathy explores the significant role of storytelling in User Experience (UX) design and the Design Thinking process. 

What are some storytelling examples in UX design?

Some of the most prominent examples of storytelling include:

Website Design: Airbnb's immersive travel experiences

Product Design: Apple's product launches

UI/UX: Duolingo's interactive language learning

Brand Identity: Nike's logo and brand visuals

Environmental Design: Narrative-driven museum exhibitions

Packaging Design: Seventh Generation's eco-friendly packaging

What are the concepts of storytelling?

Storytelling includes critical elements: 

  • Plot (the story's sequence): The series of events or structure that forms the story, including the introduction, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution.

  • Characters (individuals driving the story): The individuals or entities within the story, each with unique traits, motivations, and roles in driving the narrative forward.

  • Setting (where it unfolds): The environment or backdrop where the story takes place, encompassing time, place, and atmosphere, which adds depth to the narrative.

  • Conflict (the central challenge): The characters' main problem or challenge, driving the story's tension and development.

  • Theme (underlying message): The moral or idea explored in the story, conveying deeper meanings or lessons.

  • Point of View (narrative perspective): The story's perspective influences how events are perceived and understood.

  • Emotion (feelings evoked): The use of feelings and emotions to engage the audience, making the story relatable and memorable.

  • Resolution (story's end): The conclusion or outcome of the story that ties up loose ends and offers closure to the narrative arc.

These concepts shape outstanding narratives by intertwining events, engaging characters, and settings.

What are the 4 types of storytelling?

Storytelling comes in four forms: 

  • Spoken (oral): This is the traditional form where people speak stories or present verbally. It includes folktales, anecdotes, or personal narratives shared through speech.

  • Written (books, articles): Stories presented through the written word in books, articles, novels, or any form of written literature.

  • Visual (pictures, videos): Using visual elements like pictures, illustrations, videos, or animations to convey a narrative without relying on words.

  • Digital (online platforms, interactive media): This involves using technology, such as websites, social media, or interactive platforms, to tell stories through various media like text, images, audio, and video.

These forms cater to different ways of sharing stories, whether through speech, writing, visuals, or digital mediums, offering diverse ways to captivate audiences and convey messages. Note that there are other ways of storytelling, like theater, music, dance, etc. 

What is the main purpose of storytelling?

Storytelling is a powerful tool that helps capture attention and build connections, immersive experiences, and ideas. Stories make facts come to life by making them engaging and easy to consume. Its primary purpose is effectively communicating messages by drafting narratives, entertaining, educating, or inspiring. 

What approach is storytelling?

Storytelling is a multi-faceted approach that combines creativity, communication, and emotional engagement. It conveys information or messages through narratives, including elements like plot, characters, setting, and themes. As an approach, storytelling is both art and technique. It leverages imagination, empathy, and relatability to capture audiences’ attention across various mediums.

What are the basics of storytelling?

The basics of storytelling include:

  • Story's sequence (Plot): Story's sequence and structure.

  • Characters (that drive the narrative): Individuals driving the narrative.

  • Setting (where it occurs): Where the story unfolds, including time and atmosphere.

  • Conflict: Central challenge or problem faced by characters.

  • Theme (moral or underlying message): Underlying message or idea explored in the story. 

  • Point of view (narrative perspective): Narrative perspective shapes the story's portrayal.

  • Emotion: Feelings and connections evoked in the audience.

  • Resolution (story's end): Conclusion or outcome that ties up the story's elements.

Additionally, in storytelling, paths or roads are more than physical elements; they play a crucial role in shaping the narrative and inviting audiences into the story.

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Where to learn more about storytelling in UX design?

There’s more in common between design and storytelling than you may know or think. You can learn all that and more about storytelling through a masterclass on storytelling through visual design: a practical guide offered by IxDF.

Interaction Design for Usability course can help you deep-dive into storytelling. It will also teach you fundamental usability concepts and methods and tie them together with interaction and visual enhance user experience.

Literature on Storytelling

Here’s the entire UX literature on Storytelling by the Interaction Design Foundation, collated in one place:

Learn more about Storytelling

Take a deep dive into Storytelling with our course Interaction Design for Usability .

This course will teach you fundamental usability concepts and methods and will tie them together with interaction and visual design. By completing the course, you will become equipped with the tools required to create products with outstanding user experience and usability. Your newly acquired knowledge will also enable you to reduce the costs, risk, and time required to design and implement such products.

You’ll learn to adopt a user-centered approach to UX design and usability so you can create user-friendly products that people love to use—for example, by allowing for user errors and providing timely feedback messages. More importantly, it is crucial that your entire team—developers, project managers, and product owners alike—adopt this holistic, user-centered mindset. This course therefore aims to provide any team member with just that: it will not only equip you with fundamental usability and design concepts, but also introduce you to lean and agile processes that will allow your whole team to become design-centric.

You should take this course if you belong to a team whose goal is to create a great product—whatever role you play in that. The fact of the matter is that usability experts and UX designers are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the people who influence the design of a product. A sound understanding of user-centered design processes is thus greatly beneficial whether you’re a UX designer, developer, or a newcomer to design who wants to be part of a product team one day.

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