From caveman drawings to theatre and fine arts, the combination of storytelling and visuals has undoubtedly come a long way in moving and engaging audiences across all age groups. A visual narrative that holds great importance in the digital realm is quite fitting. The digital era has ushered in many advanced tools and technologies for visual narratives and storytelling.
Visual storytelling involves the use of graphics, images, pictures, and videos to engage with viewers to drive emotions, engage intercommunication, and motivate an audience to action.
Visual storytelling leverages compelling narratives, placing the user at the heart of the story, staged with an emotional visual media experience and effectively distributed across the user’s journey – in order to toes and drive business results. – Shlomi Ron, CEO, Visual Storytelling Institute.
From this definition, it is evident that the primary goal of visual storytelling is to induce affective reactions and encourage intercommunication in the audience. Experts have outlined five core factors of visual storytelling –
- Excitement: causing a sense of apprehension and anticipation, leaving the user wanting more.
- Entertainment: engages the users in the first five to seven seconds.
- Education: provide a space to impart information.
- Micro-interactions: ensure that even seemingly small and discrete features – such as the movement of objects, the page’s dynamic adaptation – provide a good user experience (UX). Users’ vision appreciates small interactions that make them feel in control of the entire experience.
- Call to action: set clear goals on what you want the audience to do after consuming the story. It often helps to work backward to design visual storytelling to achieve it.
Here’s why Visual Storytelling works well in UX Design
How often do you sit through a TedTalk or even a classroom lecture and come out of it recollecting very little of what you heard? The brain rule rundown (by John Medina) states that vision trumps all other human senses. Users are incredible at remembering pictures. Research suggests when you only hear a piece of information, it is likely that three days later, you’ll remember about 10% of it. Add a picture, and you’ll remember 65%! Let’s present this statement through a visual. You will find that it is easier to remember and process.
Experience is key
The fact is, companies that sell experiences rather than only products have an assurance of loyalty from their customer. A great example is Apple. Apple’s customer base is devoted and more willing to buy their future products than non-Apple users because they believe that every other Apple product will deliver a similar experience. Even with its marginal upgrade benefits, Apple consistently provides a unique and cohesive multichannel experience that instills a sense of completion and satisfaction in the user.
Creating Extraordinary Visual Stories
Visuals and images do better than text because reading exerts more effort and load on the brain. Our brain processes words as plenty of tiny pictures at one time, and we have to recognize certain features in all the letters to be able to read them. Our brain is better equipped to process images than written words, according to psychologist Haig Kouyoumdjian. Kouyoumdjian discovered that visuals:
- Make it easier to process difficult concepts.
- Reduces the time and effort required to learn and comprehend something.
- Increases retention capacity in us.
When it comes to advertising and content creation, many brands today utilize Instagram to be their guiding platform. It’s a regular custom to post an image with a supporting caption to explain what it does. But we have to take into account that a large number of viewers, especially in this day and age, are visual learners.
Explanations won’t always help you grab the attention of casual browsers no matter how delightful the pictures you post. Instead, use that pivotal space wisely. For example –
As shown above, ImaginXP is reaffirming its value ‘stand out from the crowd’ both with words and a visual narrative. It induces curiosity in the user, and their eyes glide over to the right to learn more about the program. We get to capture all of this visually before we even get to the caption. That’s how you grab your audience’s attention and share a short customer story along the way.
As shown above, the post vividly captures the sentiment of Children’s Day through a short animation that takes the viewer back to their good old days of playing as children. The subtle use of animation helps build mental models and enlighten the users about what kind of experience they gained from it, and how they are required to interact with it.
Things to consider in visual storytelling
● Focus on the message you want to convey
What are your goals, or what point are you trying to put across?
Once you have identified your core message, you can start to list other supporting factors you want to cover via the core message. Images always tell a story, even if you don’t intend for them too.
The Pixar animation video is an excellent example of that
● Create images to convey your story
Keep the images – simple and try not to make them too distracting.
They should convey your original message, along with the pivotal details, trimming anything else that is irrelevant. Our mind gets saturated very quickly with visual stimuli. Use minimum colors, fonts, finishings, techniques, and animations. If you’re working with four colors, and then you add another, it’s a 25% rise in the information.
● Maintain quality
The overall quality of an image is the average of each visual element. If you have an infographic with remarkable illustrations but poor typography, the quality perception will be half as low. Any unrefined details will hamper the overall quality. Using a poor quality image is choosing to tell the wrong story.
The charm lies in weaving a story that carries a good measure of vulnerability (to make it relatable), which allows users to see the human aspects of your narrative and this way develop trust and empathy towards the message (i.e., projecting themselves onto the story).
Psychology researcher Uri Hasson has postulated the phenomenon of Neural Coupling. It means to allow users to vicariously experience a narrative in their minds while it is presented to them. When we read stories vividly packed with feelings, colors, or sensations, the stimulatory regions of our brains are activated, making the experience more real.
● Using stereotypes is imperative.
Visual stereotypes are anything that represents an idea, as is commonly known across cultures. For example – a lamp represents an idea, a cursor arrow represents page access, and a mic represents a podcast. Unlike a verbal story, with a visual one, you don’t always have space or semantic tools to describe some elements (like a hero, good, bad, danger). In such cases, it is beneficial to use visual stereotypes the same way you need to know the character is the hero of the story just by looking at her/him.
To get to the point and connect with the user – UX designer needs to place the user at the centre of the story, addressing their needs. Why so? As Rolf Jensen, a renowned futurist aptly states, “we’re entering an emotion-focused dream society where users take for granted the functionality of products and make purchase decisions based on the degree they believe a product will deliver positive experiences.” (source: Storytelling Advertising – a Visual Marketing Analysis by Sarah Elise Väre).
● Focus on the medium
Your images need to ingest a good user experience both on desktop and on handheld devices. Details you can see but not understand across multiple channels will be noise and not valuable.
Visual Storytelling Framework for UX Designers
It is imperative to use images, colors, and a graphic narrative, tell stories to engage the users with exceptional user experience. Those brands that share their story visually connect with their customers on a deeper level. They also succeed in building a community that supports their message. It imbibes customer loyalty and increases brand awareness. It is further evidenced by research that suggests that we are enabled cognitively to process visual imagery than words in a quick time.