Your product tells a story
Let’s think about two users that end up purchasing the same product from the same webshop.
Customer A wants to buy a certain product from a certain brand in a certain color. Customer B wants to see what’s on sale, and might buy something, if they find something interesting for the right price. Their customer journey is different: they search for different things, interact with different options and use the service each in their own way.
Each customer takes their own path in their customer journey, and the path is paved with and guided by your content. A customer journey describes the whole experience the customer has with your product or service. Each step, interaction and engagement, each decision and emotion on the way.
When your content is mapped together with the customer journey, your digital product tells a story.
The story – a series of events that relate to each other – has a start, a certain amount of steps along the way, and hopefully a pleasant outcome. There might be challenges and mishaps midway, and your content has to offer solutions to keep your users turning the next page. (Perhaps, if you do a great job, it turns out to be a never-ending story, and your users keep coming back.)
Each customer and user has their own preferences and thoughts about the storyline. They join your path from wherever they happen to stand.
When you match your touchpoints and content to your customers’ journeys, you can meet their needs, thoughts, and emotions – identified through data, research and interviews – and offer the right information, at the right time, and to the right customer.
Gain trust with UX storytelling
“A product that can create feelings of success and delight is a product that gains trust and engagement.”
- Piia Jalonen, Content Design Lead
Why to think about stories, when talking about digital products?
That’s because stories evoke emotion, and emotions create lasting impressions. Evoking emotions is a way to gain engagement and trust, and make your customers remember your products and services.
Remember our customers A and B? In both cases, we’ll need to offer guidance and reassurance that everything is going smoothly, through little details and word choices throughout our interface. What they both need is information: if certain products are available, whether there is something on sale, if the order will arrive on time, and whether the payment was successful and the order is confirmed. Sometimes you have to tell them to just wait for a few moments.
“Find the emotionally critical moments and wrap the story around them.”
- Piia Jalonen, Content Design Lead
Just like our customers A and B, your users feel different emotions on their journey: there might be uncertainty, frustration, disappointment, joy, contentment and excitement. The emotion can be a little feeling of success and delight, like: “I did it! This works!”, or a feeling of being understood.
How can I start UX storytelling? Like every storyteller, author and UX writer, think about your plot, structure and voice. Then just take the first step.
Plan your plot
Every story has a plot: a series of events, that each affect the next event. By planning the plot ahead you make creating the story easier. Yes, really.
Start by defining the most important detail: what do you want to say?
Think about your goals: What do you want to achieve? How can you achieve your goals? How can you tell you have succeeded?
Then look at your data: What do your users want and need? Understanding your audience and context helps you to figure out how you can meet their expectations.
What do you need to do and offer to combine your goals and the best user experience?
Lay the groundwork
Next, think about your structure. Good stories have a sturdy one.
No matter how great your idea of a story is, it needs to make sense. The logic has to be clear. The order of the events has to be coherent. Plot holes and inconsistencies confuse your reader and user. Fancy wording can’t hide what’s behind the facade after you step into the story.
The same goes for your product: the steps you design have to lead somewhere, and your users have to be able to climb them. Make sure that your content is easy to use and accessible for everyone – humans have human needs and struggles.
Each person uses your product differently. They may take different paths to reach the same destination, and your content has to serve and guide them through their individual journeys. Your users have different needs, and they require just the right amount of information at the right moments.
Find your voice
Surface is what you see first, and finish last. It is built on top of a sturdy structure and well-thought plan.
Take a look at your content journey and think about how you say what you want to say.
Pay attention to your terminology and vocabulary. Define your tone of voice. Be consistent. Just like we define a visual language and the look and feel of a product, make sure that your word choices match both you and your story.
You are human, we presume. And it is humans that read your content and use your services. Write for them, not for interfaces.
When your users understand what you are saying and why, and have positive experiences engaging with your content, they will trust you, and eventually extend that trust from the product to your whole brand.
Start where you are now
This is all great stuff, you are probably thinking, but how does one get started?
Start right where you are now.
Find out where you stand in your path. Review your content. Seek feedback. Do you have everything you need in your content journey? Is there something that could be improved right away, like some error messages or calls to action? Is there something to be added or archived? Figure out where a little effort could make a big impact.
You don’t have to redo everything all at once. Take small steps and do slight improvements. Every iteration is a step forward.