Let's start with some good news: the quality of content published to the web has increased exponentially over the last 10 years.
Now, many content teams across marketing, media, and communications are routinely publishing impressive reading experiences.
A key driver of this change is the rise of digital storytelling. With immersive visual presentation and interactive features, digital stories have become key to some of the world's leading media companies, including the BBC, El Periodico, and Sky News.
Inspired by these examples, content teams from a range of other industries – from universities like the University of Cambridge and nonprofits like Habitat for Humanity, to brands like Christies, Honda, and Adweek – have embraced immersive digital storytelling for their own content.
In this guide, we run through 15 examples of inspiring digital stories, drawing from a wide range of industries and use cases. Many of these examples were created without a line of code being written, and others were built with only a few custom tweaks to CSS and HTML.
Before we dive into our examples, though, let's start with the basics: what is digital storytelling?
What is digital storytelling?
Digital storytelling refers to immersive, interactive content published to the web. There are many different use cases for digital storytelling, from longform features and brand stories to internal marketing and annual reports.
Digital stories are typically responsive to different display sizes, immersive, and use a range of multimedia types such as images, video, audio, infographics, and illustration. They may also use scroll-based animation and other scrollytelling techniques. You can read more about scrollytelling here.
Digital stories are often contrasted with more generic blog posts or articles published with a CMS. Typically, digital stories perform better on the standard metrics tracked by content teams, including time-on-page, bounce and exit rates, and click-through-rates and conversions.
For example, after nine months publishing digital stories with Shorthand, Imperial College London feature stories have seen 142% higher average unique pageviews and 50% higher average time on page. Read more about Imperial College London's use of digital storytelling here.
Similarly, in Honda's first year publishing digital stories, their dwell time was up 85%, and the click-through rate was up 47%. Read more about Honda's use of digital storytelling here.
Now that we've explained exactly what a digital story is, let's look at 15 stunning examples of digital storytelling published over the last 12 months.
1. Savoir Flair + Gucci
First up, we have a spellbinding digital story from Savoir Flair + Gucci. This story uses funny, surreal videos and typically gorgeous photography to introduce their luxury product line.
What do the BBC, Salesforce Ventures, and Penguin have in common?
They publish stunning, interactive web content with Shorthand. And so can you, for free. No code, no credit card, and no commitment required.
2. NBC News
Following the rise in anti-Asian discrimination in the USA, the team at NBC New produced a stunning collection of personal stories from Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders across the United States.
Elegantly designed to keep the reader scrolling down the page, the piece provides compelling mini-portraits of the lives affected most by discrimination.
3. Imperial College, London
The COVID-19 pandemic has produced some of the best digital stories — and best journalism, period — in recent years. Our third digital story example comes from Imperial College London, who executed a stunning timeline story, showing the events of the first six months of the pandemic.
Even if you've got pandemic fatigue, this story is a must-read example of how to give a visually compelling structure to an inherently complex narrative. And if you're interested in reading more digital stories about the pandemic, check out our roundup of COVID-19 reporting from 2020.
These days, a lot of content marketing published to a generic CMS looks more or less the same. Not so AdWeek's sponsored feature — built with Shorthand — on how creative powerhouse Mara Lecocq uses social media platform Pinterest.
With great use of pastel colours and short videos, the piece is a truly delightful read and an inspiring example of what's possible with 21st century digital storytelling tools.
Looking for more examples of stunning visual stories? Check out our roundup of 10 immersive visual stories.
5. AHPSR and the WHO
Next up, we have a truly impressive report from The Association for Health Policy and Systems Research and the World Health Organisation.
With beautiful design, clear navigation, and effective presentation of data, the report shows the importance of research to successful health systems. This interactive report was a deserved winner of the best Not-for-Profit story at the 5th Annual Shorthand Awards.
6. Brexit by Numbers
Any list of the best digital stories on the web would be incomplete without Sky News' exceptional explainer, Brexit by Numbers. With compelling illustrations, the team managed to achieve the 'Goldilocks' of data journalism — not too complex, not too superficial — a feat, given the complexity of Britain leaving the EU.
Given this achievement, it's no surprise the piece won Best Editorial Story at the 5th Annual Shorthand Awards.
As the best marketers know, the most effective content marketing educates and entertains the reader. This is certainly true of the truly fascinating story from Christies on their auction for Lunar and Rare Meteorites.
With some impactful illustrations and videos (pun intended), the story is a great example of brand storytelling.
8. The Football Association
Let's face it: Most strategy documents aren't particularly engaging to read. With their 2020-2024 strategy article, though, the Football Association have broken the mould.
Beautifully designed, with great use of pull-quotes and data, the digital story is a truly engaging overview of the future of the English game.
For this example, let's travel to the bottom of the world, where New Zealand media company Stuff produced a flawless piece of data journalism. Following the release of the census, Stuff's data journalists produced a series of charts and graphs to visualise the changes in New Zealand's economy and demography over time.
Even if you're not from that part of the world, Aotearoa in 20 is a compelling example of how to create a simple, easy-to-understand data-driven digital story.
If you're looking for more examples like this, check out 8 examples of powerful data stories.
10. Clearly Gottleib
Not too long ago, market updates from financial firms would be presented in PDF or Powerpoint — often accompanied by cheap stock photography from Flickr, Creative Commons, or Google Images.
But in stories like Spotlight on Healthcare, Clearly Gottleib are setting a new standard for visual storytelling in the financial sector. Despite the specialist subject matter, this is an exemplary story for anyone interested in digital storytelling.
11. University of Utah Health
Our next example is a moving and detailed introduction to the work of the Burn Centre at the University of Utah.
Featuring powerful portraits of burn survivors, the story is a nicely balanced mix of immersive text and more attention-grabbing visual elements.
12. The US Census Bureau
How do you run an accurate census for a country as enormous and diverse as the United States? In this story, the US Census Bureau takes us through the multi-year process of designing and promoting the census.
Using maps and impressive visual design, the piece underscores the importance of getting accurate demographic data.
13. The Barbican
As a relatively young genre of content, digital storytelling is ripe for formal experimentation. And who better to experiment than London's famous art gallery and venue, the Barbican?
With Soundhouse, the Barbican team created an online platform for creative radio and podcasting. The team wanted to find a way to transform a typically solitary activity — such as listening to a podcast — into something that felt public and communal. The result was a series of three digital ‘listening rooms’, each featuring a radio player with audio and podcasts selected by a curator, a track list, and an introduction from the curator.
Read more about the creation of Soundhouse in this case study with The Barbican.
14. The Council for the European Union
Lists — such as the piece you are reading — are an all-too-common type of web content. In order to stand out from the crowd, the team at the European Council, working with digital agency Harpoon, have created a gorgeously illustrated immersive digital story.
In particular, the team use scrollytelling techniques to layer simple sketches over high resolution photographs, showing how Europeans are interacting with their environment in a climate-neutral way.
15. The King's Fund
The best digital storytellers know how to use impressive visual effects to support the story at hand. In A Long Way to Go, the team at The King's Fund relate the personal experiences of racism and discrimination by many frontline health workers in the UK's National Health Service.
Using scroll-based animation and subtly effective illustrations, the story is a powerful introduction to experiences of injustice that are all too common.
As you can see from the examples above, the best digital stories are, first and foremost, good stories. In that respect, the art of storytelling hasn't changed with the move to digital. These stories are well-researched and engagingly written, with clear storyboarding.
At the same time, with the rise of digital storytelling tools and consumer editing software, digital storytellers have a much wider array of techniques at their disposal. These include scroll-based animation and other scrollytelling techniques, video clips and other high quality multimedia assets, infographics, timelines, interactive maps, data visualisation, and much more.
If you're ready to create digital stories like these, get started with Shorthand's free trial.