The Create-Your-Own-Journey Website Genre – Inside the Mind of a Website Designer

Since senior year of high school with creating an online women’s clothing business’ website, I have always found websites to be an enjoyable medium that conveys a plethora of information. Unlike a book or newspaper, a full-fledged website can contain unlimited information that is bound only by the mouse scrolling of the reader. Every single mode fluidly translates into a website, from the visual mode of animated .gif imagery, spatial mode of the placement of elements in certain places, and so on.

It was not until recently with my decision to create an interactive website did I realise the difficulty in the genre of create-your-own-journey websites. Unlike any regular website, these interactive websites must somehow combine the user’s uncorrelated input into a coagulated result. Further, it is crucial to ensure that the reader really understands the end-game result and that the reader feels his/her choices were valuable in deciding the fate of the result. This is where perspective-taking and empathising with the reader’s experience comes into play.

There are many complications associated with creating an interactive website, some technical and some more centralised on the reader interpreting the content. After analysing several examples of text, there are some positive and negative trends in how these interactive, create-your-own-journey websites operate.

  • Acknolwedge that the reader is a user. The reader is an active of a reader as he/she will ever be. The reader is trying to grapple with the content on the page through interacting with it. By using the mouse cursor and pressing on elements on the page, the reader is making decisions. Consequently, the writer must think beyond simply ‘how is the reader interpreting this information,’ but also ‘what is the reader’s experience navigating through this website?’. This is where the design of the website, particularly the spatial mode, is enormously vital for the reader to understand the meaning of your text.
  • So, hand the power to the reader. Unlike your typical BuzzFeed ‘What Dessert Are You?’ interactive website, often these create-your-own-journey websites have a reason behind their existence. To avoid sounding like you are simply educating or arguing a point across to the reader, you have to make the experience enjoyable. Simply put, an effective way to do this is by granting the user full autonomy, which is something we, as writers, are not used to doing. The reader is writing his/her own story, not the writer. You simply facilitate the reader’s imagination to inspire a narrative. Once the reader creates his/her own narrative, the reader will take ownership of that work and feel responsible for the result, allowing the reader to better empathise with the website’s purpose.
  • Then reward the reader for taking the reins. After an arduous journey traveling through the website, the reader must feel satisfied. To be satisfied does not necessarily mean a happy ending, but simply a sense of closure and that the reader’s decisions mattered. Make sure that the reader’s choices accurately match with the result that he/she received at the end. This also means that all results should be equally satisfying for the reader to experience; the choices that the reader selects should not impact his/her satisfaction, but only the characteristics of the result.

Figure 1. A happy ending is not always the best ending, especially if you are trying to convince the reader of an argument. An ‘a-ha!’ moment can make the end-game of a create-your-own-journey website very fulfilling, especially if the reader leaves the website learning something they didn’t know before. Think in the lens of the last minutes of a film, which viewers often use to rate the film’s quality: you don’t spoil the end of the film’s plot but show how everything that has happened throughout the film has built up to that moment. Source: http://jug-lviv.blogspot.com/2013/01/fridays-fun_1938.html

More generally speaking, there are also plenty of trends in the broader genre of a website, which are dissected below.

  • A website designer is fluent in all modes. Or at least they should be. A true website designer should be able to utilise all modes throughout the entire website. The code on the website grants full freedom for the writer to convey information how he/she pleases. Linguistic mode can easily be communicated like any text through words and phrases, visual mode can be seen by uploading and inserting image or video files, spatial mode can be structured with the website’s formatting and placement of HTML elements, aural mode can be heard with uploading a sound file or even implementing a music file that plays when entering the landing page, and gestural mode can be presented through visuals of people’s gestures. The writer can choose to use only specific modes on certain pages and then interlace all these pages together as a single, cohesive website.
  • The audience of a website can be specific, but it is always published globally. The potential generalisation of the audience to anyone in the world should always be on the mind of a website designer: it defines the threshold between public and private information to display on the website. However, this also means that you must understand many readers could be visiting the website without an actual interest in the website’s topic initially. For instance, readers must intentionally go to the library or store to obtain a book after considering beforehand what they were looking for. In contrast, ‘website surfing’ could mean that many website visitors appeared out of curiosity, with no incentive to stay. This means the ‘hook’ that attracts the reader on a website is significantly more important than in a book or other genres, as many visitors have no reason to continue browsing the website if they are not initially interested.
  • There is no limit to how much information you can communicate. As stated in the beginning of this post, the only restriction on the amount of information you can convey is barred only by the reader’s mouse scrolling. There is no real limitation on information. If you don’t want the reader to scroll, you can always redirect them to another website page as well. Unfortunately, having no limitation on how much information you can convey means that many website designers incorrectly overload the reader with far too much information. This is dangerous as it works against the writer. Not only does it ruin the reader’s experience, but also makes it difficult for the reader to parse the important concepts in a text to remember. The freedom of information is thus both a blessing and a curse.

Figure 2. A reader can only handle so much information. Even if you could speak for hours on the topic, the reader may have only opened up your website assuming it would be enough to entertain them for a 5-minute coffee break, not a 90-minute lecture. When the size of the scrolling bar is shorter than the width of your thumb, you know need to start cutting the amount of content on your page. Source: https://gifer.com/en/3b8

The new genre of the interactive website, and more specifically the create-your-own-journey website is a phenomenal avenue for writers to convey their text. Although website design is somewhat more complex than more traditional mediums of text, it is important for writers to keep up with new technology to engage all forms of readers. And, there is no better time to create a website than now—the number of free website builders that exist allow for full creativity in an easy-to-use platform. With these tips about the interactive website genre, why not try making your own right now?

3 thoughts to “The Create-Your-Own-Journey Website Genre – Inside the Mind of a Website Designer”

  1. Hey Alex!
    This was a super interesting read for me because I have no previous knowledge of website design or any kind of technological anything at all. These were all tips I never would have thought of, but make so much sense when I read them. Handing the power to the reader is a cool idea. I think the distinction between Buzzfeed articles and create your own journey is also key. Knowing your project and the sophistication level of it, it is great you recognize that the reader needs to feel like they are creating their journey, and you’re not the one giving them the options (even though you lowkey are). I’m also glad you recognize that even though you may have a target audience, the internet is global and at the end of the day it’s anyone’s game out there. This was something I had to think about when sketching out my podcast too because while I know I want close friends and family to hear it, nothing in this day and age is ever completely private. I’m glad I got to read this and get a little bit of User design/experience intellect. Thanks for sharing!

  2. You made a women’s clothing website in HIGH SCHOOL??? Where is the LINK…I wanna see!
    This was a really thorough exploration of the “choose-your-own-adventure” website. Especially because it’s a bit of an obscure genre, you did a great job of explaining what it is, how it works, and how writers should approach making one. I found the concept of the user being the “writer” super interesting, because it gives you both less and more work to do (you don’t have to have all the answers to create one definitive story, but you have to create a bunch of little ones and surrender your power over to someone else…scary!). “Rewarding the reader for taking the reins” is another tricky concept, but it’s one that you’ve explained well. It also exemplifies the appeal of the “choose-your-own-adventure” website for both the creator and the user: the user leaves the website feeling like they’ve had a capital-E “Experience,” and the pressure of making irrefutable meaning is taken off the reader because each user has a unique journey. Overall, a lot of work, but very cool. I’m excited to see where this goes!

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