Transactions vs. experiences: End of storytelling on the web?

John Steinbeck on Story telling...My maternal grandfather is an exceptional storyteller. He has a quiet demeanor about him (or it least it seems that way at first blush as he’s usually surrounded my mom and her siblings – a group that’s never been accused of being subtle when they’re together) but he has a way of spinning the most remarkable tales. Never one to let facts get in the way of a good yarn – I often cite his assertion that “it’s not lying if you don’t expect anyone to believe you” – Grandpa can keep your attention and delight you at every turn.

I often like to think I’ve picked some of that up from him. My interest (and relative success, I guess) in my field stems from my love of telling a story in a way that the audience can appreciate. It’s a different beast to write a speech for an accountant to deliver than what Grandpa does but it comes from the same place, I think.

What do users want to experience?

But this article from Slate made me rethink things a bit, as articles from Slate tend to do (go read it, it’s worth the investment and doing a synopsis to distill its key points would really sort of undermine the whole angle of this post).

Much of what I do as a web professional falls under the broad realm of user experience design and definition. We talk about user-centered approaches to information architecture and persuasive design but really, at its core, its about reducing barriers to some sort of conversion. This might be more true for me than other web folks, I guess, given the enterprise nature of my clients, but at some level, we’re all focused on getting the user to take some concrete, measurable action.

And I don’t think that’s necessarily wrong. More often that not, we’re giving users what they want. They come to these sites to transact in some way, whether concretely (buying or signing up for something) or more abstractly (to get information or have a question answered). They don’t come for a narrative exploration of something, they come to do something.

And yet, aren’t the narrative experiences the ones we ultimately remember? Doesn’t a good story stick with us more than an efficient transaction anyway?

How the hell do you quantify that? The first person that does might just revolutionize the web.

Creative Commons License photo credit: Jill Clardy