Design trend to watch: responsive storytelling

We’ve spent a lot of time here at Propoint thinking about the new year and what it means for the world of information presentation, visualization, and design. And while there are a number of interesting aesthetic trends worth exploring, we’re a content-driven agency always interested in new ways to more effectively tell your story. Responsive storytelling is one that we think will be particularly important.

What is responsive storytelling?

The phrase “responsive storytelling” isn’t new. Denise Jacobs, a creative evangelist, used the term back in 2012 referring to cross-platform and mobile-compatible storytelling. Our interpretation is more concerned with capturing your audience’s attention and then guiding them through an interactive and customizable flow of information that conveys your narrative in a way that’s uniquely useful to the individual. In other words, don’t tell me your story; tell me the story that is relevant to me. This can be done using new and existing technologies like microsites, mobile apps, interactive infographics, PowerPoint, etc.

Edward Segel and Jeffrey Heer provide a great metaphor for this concept in their Narrative Visualization study. “This presentation style can be compared to a narrative pattern called the martini glass structure, following a tight narrative path early on (the stem of the glass) and then opening up later for free exploration (the body of the glass.)” We think the idea makes more sense with the glass tipped on its side. The opening gets wider as you travel from left to right.

Design Trend to Watch: Responsive Storytelling

Why is responsive storytelling so important?

People are used to having access to information when and where they want it. You’ve got a very small window in which to grab someone’s interest. People can process and retain visual images in as little as 13 milliseconds, according to MIT. However, if there’s one thing a good Netflix binge has taught us, it’s that if you can make it past the quick hook your audience may commit for the deep dive. But to keep them engaged you need to give your audience the freedom to access the particular information each individual needs. Interactive technology allows you to guide your audience through a compelling top-line narrative while affording them opportunities to drill down to the details they want.

How do you do it?

In order for responsive storytelling to work—or any story for that matter—you must begin with some basics:

1. What are you trying to accomplish?

2. Who is your audience?

3. Why should they care?

Don't go in blind. Audience research is key. Use those answers to make sure your content tells a compelling story.

Begin with the facts, then handle the details

Next, you’ll want to separate out the essentials that you want everyone to understand from the details and supporting facts that will bolster your argument. These secondary elements are then slotted in as modular on-demand details or side routes that your audience can explore on an individual level. For example, someone viewing a story about demographics may want to dig deeper into the data about their hometown before moving on to the conclusion of the story. These microinteractions are important because they that will allow users to freely navigate and dig deeper without feeling like they're missing the key points of the story.

Build the responsive framework

Now it's time to create a responsive framework that lets your audience determine how the story is told. Simple features such as breadcrumbs and smart user-driven navigation are essential to help guide the user. Interactive infographics, charts, maps, and other data-driven or detail components can be particularly compelling when the viewer wants a deeper dive. And while the particular technology or medium you use is secondary to what you're trying to communicate, each has its own pros and cons. On one end there are web-based interactive options as seen in The New York Times Interactive Features, Bloomberg Visual Data and various web-based apps that offer unlimited freedom in functionality, interactivity and data integration. However, they require particular expertise to create and may require a live internet connection to view.

On the other end are more traditional options such as interactive PowerPoint, Prezi, and Google Slides that are more restrictive but are also more accessible to the lay person. The technology you choose depends on your audience and resources, but remember that there are a lot of different ways to tell your story.

Whichever path you choose, intelligent application of responsive storytelling will keep users engaged longer and create a valuable experience that tells a more effective narrative, reinforces your credibility, and instills trust in you, your message and your brand.

Need help telling your brand's story? The award-winning designers at Propoint can help.

Jim C.

Written by Jim C.