Stories are composed of a series of events and the thresholds between them—each event is a potential gateway to others, according to the logic of cause and effect. In fact, storytelling is one of our most ancient practices as humans. By using it to shape information architecture, we seek to realize gains in creativity and intuitiveness for the user experience.
This presentation covers how to model information as a story, with narrative twists on three conventional techniques for user experience design: the construction of user personas, card sorting, and navigation layout.
Consider two statements from the writer Edward Morgan Forster: “The king died, and then the queen died,” versus, “The king died, and then the queen died of grief.” Although both invoke a sequence of events, the second is a story plot—it reveals causation and implies the stakes for the characters. By doing so, stories make the reader want to know what happens next. Authors have the power to lead readers on captivating journeys through complex environments.
What if information architects and designers had similar powers to guide users through content? Most information systems represent an indefinite state in which the information is related topically and hierarchically, but not necessarily portrayed causally or sequentially as a story does. A story is a predetermined journey through moments crafted to evoke certain effects. Drawing on elements such as character and plot development to inform where and how users encounter information, we can help people reach an ending that satisfies.
Cues from storytelling can be productively applied to the design of information architecture, because stories are quintessentially human. This makes storytelling a shared logic that architects and designers can tap into to achieve creative yet user-friendly ways of managing information.