Narrative web: it’s a Web Site Story

Posted in User Experience | 26 October 2011

Corporate websites stress their company’s leadership in their particular business field. E-commerce sites focus mainly on the quality/price binomial, as well as the product range. While web portfolios are collections of images with some graphic effects designed to attract attention.

It’s not an easy task finding pure, user-oriented websites; most of the time they are marketing-oriented. And, when the user does really matter, they seem to guide and instruct them on what’s supposed to be a good and effective web experience for them.

Studies suggest that web users are asking more than this. They are demanding a narrative experience; a story with – as the main characters –  the website itself (goals, mission, background) and its audience (users, clients, buyers or vendors).

In other words, an e-commerce website should abandon the logic of ‘see, add to the cart, buy, and have it delivered’ but instead adopt a narrative approach. That is, with the customer describing their experience with a particular product. Amazon.com, for example, devotes a great deal of space to products reviews: registered users can add a description based on their personal experience and knowledge, or they can comment on images.

So if we are a professional and we want to distinguish ourself from the competitors, it’s misleading to create a splash page, replete with elaborate and time-consuming animations, just to lead the user to an ordinary static page. Rather, we should tell our personal story i.e., where we come from, our achievements and our struggles to become a professional in the field. Maybe using a minimalist blog-style layout as the well-known graphic designer David Carson has done.

Instead of boring visitors with mission statements, a corporate page could, for example, show the historical commitment of the company to global sustainability and the ethical code of conduct: the ‘About us’ section on Walmart is so extensive and detailed, it looks like a microsite within the site.

Another common mistake is pretending to maintain a close relationship to users through site customisation, surveys and newsletters. Unfortunately, in many cases this ends up being no more than a new browser skin or unsolicited commercial information. Put more simply: the user sometimes prefers to listen to someone’s else story instead of being told their story.

If surfing the web sometimes looks like a fast, erratic and unordered sequence of clicks from one page to another, this is because the user cannot find what they need. Or, to be more precise, they don’t view that particular content as interesting, new or involving. When selling a product, the web experience shouldn’t end with a monetary transaction or a contact form. Rather, it should deepen the interaction or, better still, the story. ‘The story of a product doesn’t end with the sale; the sale is merely the beginning of the big story. Take Mary, who has just purchased new software; now she needs to install it, learn to use it, and create new things with it.’1
This particular example suggests that a good user-oriented e-commerce website should use this as a case-study to solve future problems, to improve customer satisfaction, to adopt new products or to learn new ideas. (Cover image credits)

1Beyond Usability and Design: The Narrative Web