Elevating Narrative within the Digital Space


By Interactive Designers Josh Williams and Nasreen Qureshi  and Content Strategist Samantha Kramer, Social@Ogilvy Washington DC

No matter what story you aim to tell, how you answer two questions will define your success: How will I engage people? And how will I keep them engaged? This proves especially difficult in today’s world, where one must struggle to rise above the white noise that defines modern life. Whether it’s a matter of time, attention span, or both, people prefer a quick fix to accommodate their frantic schedule of liking, tweeting, chatting, snapping, etc.
Developments in web design and technology have enabled those within the publishing industry to challenge this behavior. The striking visual techniques that we’ve come to observe in recent editorials are a testament to these advances. We are not only invited to consume information, but become a part of a fresh experience. Content is now imbued with a bespoke quality, attracting individuals traditionally uneager to devote time and effort to long form narrative or content beyond the who, what, where, when, and why of the moment.

These new storytelling techniques have the power to transform an inaccessible topic—say, quantum mechanics—into an engaging and approachable reflection on how the very fabric of the world around us works. The New York Times feature on the discovery of the Higgs boson (“Chasing the Higgs Boson”) included beautiful animated graphics that broke down how the particle gives mass to matter. As a result, the “God Particle” became comprehendible to the common man and generated substantial buzz beyond the scientifically inclined. These multimedia elements have achieved sustained life, incorporated into recent articles chronicling the Nobel Prize win of the Higgs boson team.

Simple, hand-drawn illustrations break down the existence of the Higgs boson and its mass-gifting powers.

Outside of mainstream news publications, genre-specific outlets such as Pitchfork and Complex Magazine have successfully experimented with HTML5 to bring their own stories to life. Many of us are familiar with Daft Punk, but Pitchfork’s cover story of the duo (“Machines for Life”), which combined dynamic photography, video and parallax scrolling, immersed readers into the group’s electronic mythology. The design not only provided a sensory experience, but also an effective structural framework, highlighting pull quotes and breaking up paragraphs for easy reading.

The fusion of HTML5, dramatic photography, video and parallax scrolling, invites readers into the world of Daft Punk.

Similar to the Pitchfork piece, The New York Time’s “Tomato Can Blues,” a sports story with a true crime twist, utilizes design to evoke its noir-like spirit. Graphic novel style templates appear at various touch points and are brought to life through parallax. From the illustrations to the typography, the piece’s design elements work to tell the story. Creative assets no longer serve supplemental functions, but have become integrated and significant narrative components.

The illustrations and typography reflect the gritty nature of the story, which chronicles an amateur cage fighter’s failed attempt at faking his own death.

Rolling Stone’s impressive feature on hackers (“The Geeks on the Front Lines”) goes far beyond the standard digital template. A reflection of its tech-centric subject matter, the story sets a precedent in combining web design and content through the power of HTML5. Cinemagraphs and treated accents that give the appearance of computer glitches are just a few of the elements that push the dimensional boundaries of how to tell a story. They help drive the scrolling experience, as readers are compelled through their own curiosity and interest to explore what falls below the fold.

The trademarks of what we’ve come to associate with computer hacking are woven throughout the story. From espionage-style photography to stylized text and photo treatments, the reader is introduced to the heroes and villains of our cyberwars.

These creative techniques will become more common in the content marketplace as the battle for engagement rages on. A story’s power no longer rests strictly on writing talent, but the ability of web design to elevate the narrative and drive conversation across the socialscape. The art of storytelling has become an art form unto itself.