Websites are incredibly versatile as a medium, to be used to display information and other content, and if well designed they can do this in an enjoyable way that’s easy for the reader to digest.
This can be done through combining a site persona with an ongoing narrative, consistent throughout, which will all come together to create a ‘story’ through which you can deliver relevant content.
It’s important to recognize as a designer that the story, which the content is then based on, comes before anything else in the site.
The content can’t simply be “dropped” into the site post-design; it needs to be built up in the correct order: Story, Content, and then, finally, Design.
Putting together the “Story” for your website involves two main components: a persona and narrative.
When designing a website, any designer will tell you is that the most important piece of information they need is the target audience. This is necessary information in styling the website, layout, what content (both text and images) to include, even what color schemes would look best.
Once this information is found, either through market search, or through your primary objective as as site being to appeal to a certain audience, you can then work out how to adapt that into your site design. While the content will decide that the target audience is (e.g. eCommerce site selling kids toys is clearly aimed at parents). This is an important part of knowing what your story needs in order to be conveying. Your ideal target audience has preferences and personality; this is your persona.
Next comes the site persona, which is a fictional individual, representing your site in a ways: style, looks, ideas, age — all symbolizing various aspects of your website. These characteristics come together to form a personality — a persona — that defines your site and helps to provide a clear picture of how it should behave, what it should look like, and what content it should contain.
The importance of this in website design cannot be stressed enough, as it stops designers from falling into the trap of focusing on individual elements from the site, which combine to create a poor site with lack of coordination. A designer with an overall picture of the site, right from the beginning, will create a far better end product.
To create your website persona, take some of these suggestions:
A good idea of your target audience: As mentioned above, you can use your user persona to help mold your site’s persona, however it only needs to relate to the user persona, not mirror it directly, otherwise your site will be far too specific.
References to key figures in your business (if any): This will help if your brand identity is based on the people in your company, as your site persona can reflect elements of theirs, just as Apple did with Steve Jobs.
Promotional content: This will make up the user experience on your website, and will be partly influenced by your site persona, but by being apart of it, and so influences it in return. The content will tell your user what the site is about, and what the persona is, playing an important role in the persona of your site.
Any other relevant content: This may seem vague, however sites can be so varied, and any relevant content or aspects of a site can be useful in creating a persona for it, and even suitable and seemingly inconsequential things can make a noticeable difference to the front-end of your site.
The narrative of your website is the essence of your story, and encompasses all your content. Your narrative is the video that embeds your site; it is the content on your About Us page; it is your background image. It’s virtually all your content coming together to bring the user an overall experience that forms a narrative.
It’s easy to think of a narrative in a similar way to a thematic site. However, it’s different as themes focus on design, where narratives focus on all aspects, especially content. The important of the narrative is that it dictates your site’s pacing and how the user interacts with it.
The best narratives come organically grown, and it helps to have some existing content to define your narrative from. In a nutshell. the narrative is the journey the user experiences on their journey throughout your site, and you’ll need to get it right for your user to have an enjoyable experience. Just as a narrative needs to hang together well in a novel, so does your site’s narrative.
Your narrative can benefit from input from the story of your company– or a figure in your company, highlighting the highs and lows — anything that will make your user/reader care, and take an interest in your site. If your site has a blog, then your users will, if you have an interesting story, return time and again, to check for updates, and to participate in your site. This is especially important if you have a forum on your site, as users can directly contribute.
In conclusion, your website, small or large, will have a user experience, and if you haven’t taken the time to care or create a story, it won’t be as coordinated or flow as well as it could do. The sites you see where you think, “Wow, that’s awesome!” or “I wish my site worked as well as that”, have most likely been storyboarded with a narrative, and taken care over styling a persona.