Adobe Creative Cloud

Once Upon a Time: The Secrets to Digital Storytelling

This month we’re thinking about photographs, illustrations, and videos that do more than just look good — they tell us a story. Quick digital narratives have become a staple of our increasingly media-saturated daily lives, and there are more ways than ever for people to create their personal stories and share them online.

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But there’s also so much information competing for our attention. This made us ask a question: What separates the stuff we scroll past from the images that grab us, pique our curiosity, pull at our heartstrings, and compel us to pass the story on?

The Timeless Art of a Good Story

To find out more about what makes a good digital story, we talked to two of our in-house storytelling experts, Brian Nemhauser, director of product management, and Ben Matthews, director of design. Ben and Brian work with Adobe Spark, a free graphic design app made to give anyone the ability to tell their stories by creating posts, webpages, and videos quickly, with some basic design help built in.ONEINCHPUNCH / ADOBE STOCK

According to Ben, storytelling in the digital era has a lot in common with how we’ve communicated through the ages: “Stories have been around for hundreds of thousands of years, and the strength of stories has always been in how they’re told, and how often they’re retold. Even though social media is a relatively new presence in our lives, this is still true. The stronger your story — the more visual, the more impactful, the more it’s shared and consumed — the more you get your word out.”
But today we’re less likely to retell an ancestral tale around a campfire, and more likely to share a viral image or video. So, that means there are some new rules for what makes a story compelling. “First you have to be noticed, and the way to do that is visually, whether it’s with motion or color or imagery. From a practical standpoint, that’s step one,” says Brian. “From there, you need to tell a story. People remember a message when it’s conveyed as a story.”

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Good stories, no matter the medium, draw people in with an emotional element. “If you’re trying to make a personal connection in your story, use images of humans. So much emotion can be built into a photo,” says Ben. “From there, illustrations and icons help you reinforce ideas, and audio can add an extra element to pull everything together.”

It’s also important to be concise. People are overwhelmed with information these days, so the quicker you tell your story, the more people you will reach.

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Timeliness matters, too. “It’s like comedy,” Brian says. “Timing is everything. If you want something to get picked up and spread, you have to get your story out at the right moment.” If the story you have to tell is about politics or the eclipse or a natural disaster or the kids’ first day back to school, you want to get your story out within hours, not days or weeks.

Video as a Digital Storytelling Trend

According to Brian and Ben, video is quickly becoming one of the most engaging types of content, especially with autoplay on social media. “It’s a medium that allows for motion,” Ben says, “and that’s a natural way of telling a narrative.”

People are integrating video backgrounds, like moving water, to create a mood for stories that play out in text or sound. And since video is muted on social feeds, more designers are placing text over video (which is something you can do easily in Spark).

Be Honest and Brave

“One of the most important things, when it comes to telling a story people will care about, is to be authentic,” Brian says. “I think we’re past the days of marketing copy. If you don’t believe what you’re writing or saying, people will know, and they won’t want to listen.”

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But it’s not just about being honest. You also have to be brave. “It takes courage to tell a story,” Brian says. “Any story can fail. People might ridicule it, they might decide it just doesn’t matter. You can’t let that keep you from putting your story out into the world.”

Your Happily Ever After

If you’re thinking about how to tell a digital story, keep following us on the blog this month. We’ll get tips from stock photographers, videographers, illustrators, and a photojournalist about how they create images with a narrative in mind. Don’t miss this month’s curated gallery of Adobe Stock images that tell stories. We’ve gathered photos and videos that strike that perfect balance between a strong concept in their own right, and versatility for designers. And if you want to quickly create a beautiful story yourself, give Spark a try.

2017 Visual Trends, Adobe Stock, Inspiration