Hyper-narrative and Website Design
For those of us of a certain age who grew up before the advent of the internet (and who now struggle to do up their own shoelaces without sitting down), the concept of hyper-narratives (texts with a non-linear, branching structure where the reader makes choice) and, consequently, website design, is neatly embodied in these books:
Choose your Own Adventure stories presented stories in a non-linear way, allowing the reader a set of options every few pages so they could follow a path to a series of different outcomes. From the perspective of the internet age, these books were prescient in the way they took the idea of a story apart and placed control of the narrative in the hands of the reader. The effect of reading them and following the different paths of the stories was a sometimes vertiginous feeling of freedom, but this was cleverly engineered by the authors. To write these books required a rigorous process of planning, structuring and predicting how the reader might approach the different paths. The outcome always needed to be the same: the reader needed to enjoy the experience and receive a degree of catharsis from the different conclusions.
So, how can this translate to website design? The writers of the Choose your Own Adventure books understood the desires and needs of the reader and understood how the linear structure of the story could be broken down and rebuilt in a way that satisfied multiple readers and encouraged them to repeatedly return to the book. A website designer also needs to understand his ‘reader’ or potential customer. A website, much like the Choose your Own Adventure books, is a non-linear tangle of paths that a browser can follow, and the key is to ensure that they reach the information they need quickly and in a way that doesn’t frustrate them. There are a number of approaches that can be taken to ensure this happens:
- Follow the AIDA model
AIDA (Attention, Interest, Desire, Action) is the key to both individual pages and to the structure of the website in general. The Choose your Own Adventure writers understood how to grab the attention of their reader, how to sustain their interest, stoke their desire and influence their actions. A well designed website will do the same thing: each page will draw the visitor in and funnel them through to the pages they need to visit to commit to a sale.
- Know your customer
A good digital marketing service will use persona research to get a good sense of what your customers are looking for and, as a consequence, will plan and construct your website in a way that it both attractive to them and helps them find the information they need.
- Be prepared to test and adapt
The advantage a website has over the old Choose your Own Adventure books, is the ability you have to change the structure depending on how your visitors are using it. To do this, it is often useful to test pages and paths through the site to ensure the optimum structure and look is adopted. These tests can occur in the development stage, but it is also important to regularly review your website to ensure it is both search engine and conversion rate optimised.
An understanding of the ways in which hyper-narratives can be used to create online journeys for customers is a useful starting point for the planning, preparation, construction and testing new websites. The Choose your Own Adventure books are both a good analogy for how websites work, but also serve as a useful model for best practice. If you’re interested in a new website or refreshing your existing website, then get in touch and we can start plotting digital adventures for your clients to follow.