The importance of storytelling in UI design

May 5, 2020
Hot topics 🔥
Design & UX Insights
Martijn Hinfelaar
The importance of storytelling in UI design

Great stories will always captivate the human mind, no matter how they’re being told. Because of this, storytelling is the framework businesses use to reach audiences. Good UX and UI designers know the key to creating memorable user experiences lies not only in successful usability and functionality, but also in telling audiences a good story, which engages them emotionally.

Summoning any emotion helps retain their attention for longer, which in the UX game is the primary aim. Designers are storytellers for the screen, and they use either design or copy as mediums to craft engaging narratives to hook emotional buy-in from users. The goal is to access their feelings and make users weave their own emotional narrative into the stories being told to boost overall engagement and action.

Successful UX storytelling requires not only getting users emotionally invested but also managing to keep them that way long after their user journey. 

What is design storytelling?

In design, the art of storytelling as a technique is used as a way to gain valuable insight into the psychology of users, and access them on an emotional level. This is achieved through building a relationship by leveraging our uniquely human emotion of empathy. By incorporating traditional storytelling elements and structures, which we are innately tuned to respond emotionally, designers are able to increase the appeal of their message. The best UI design stories engage users on an emotional level, showing how your brand understands them. This serves to boost user responsiveness and overall buy-in of the brand or product.

The psychology  behind storytelling

Humans are hardwired to find patterns in nature – it forms the basis of our curiosity. Every story has a beginning, a middle, and an end. We all intrinsically know this, and the formula for each story has been the same for hundreds of years. Every website has a landing page (beginning), a service or about page (middle) and a contact page (end). Our lives have a beginning, middle and end. Everywhere we look we can see the pattern. So users expect this formula when interacting with any form of communication: greeting, primary content, goodbye/keep in touch.

Stories become relatable when audiences insert their own experiences and emotional bias into the narrative – emotions transcend logic and culture no matter who the audience is. So the job of designers is to touch on a broad range of powerful emotions which every user can relate to on some level (we’ve all experienced joy, sorrow, love, hate, etc). 

How to tell a great story

The Interaction Design Foundation shows the importance of storytelling in design by showing how Greek philosopher Aristotle’s ideas about empathy can help craft meaningful design stories:

“Aristotle wrote extensively on persuasion; his understanding of empathy, although relating to classical-Greek drama, is essential for appreciating what users want. Aristotle’s formula has seven elements:

  1. Plot – what are users trying to achieve/overcome?
  2. Character – who are the users: not just demographically, but what insights do you require to understand what they’re truly like and their real needs?
  3. Theme – how can you establish a trustworthy presence to them and still set yourself apart from competitors? How do you reflect the overall obstacles users must overcome?
  4. Diction – what will your design say to users and how? Does a formal/informal tone match what they’d expect to find? How much text is appropriate?
  5. Melody – 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? Is a classic design or a stylized, niche layout in step with their expectations?
  7. Spectacle – how can you make your design outstanding so users will remember it?”

Every story involves some form of conflict so try to think of users as the protagonist needing to achieve a goal and you are the one to help them by providing things they will need. How do you know what they need? By understanding your users deeply. Creating user personas is a great way to understand the factors motivating your audience so you can know how to provide assistance. Every person has a story and motivations, so go deep with your audience personas to find small but crucial elements in their daily life which you can provide a solution for. When you know who you are designing for, it makes it a lot easier to anticipate their needs and preferences. 


Make sure to incorporate storytelling throughout the entire design process by adding to your audience persona to anticipate a user’s likely experience. Whether you are building an app or creating a killer website, this concept applies to different digital products. Great UX and UI design should show that designers have used the art of storytelling to successfully anticipate users’ actions at every touchpoint. Knowing your audiences well will help you establish meaningful connections to improve overall user experience and brand loyalty.   

Martijn Hinfelaar

Martijn is the creative director and founder of our design studio Solving. Formerly the creative lead at Jungle Minds and creative director at The Garage, he has more than 20 years of experience in the agency world.

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