Many discussions about how to craft the perfect online user experience focus on function and usability. But several recent studies on the impact of the Internet on human nature suggests user experience design might be overlooking a key factor: memorability. To be remembered, an online experience must do more than be easy and effective - it must be emotionally impactful, this study and others suggest.

Google Effects on Memory, published last year in Science Magazine, explains that the pervasiveness of the Internet means people are remembering less and less of the materials they view online. Instead, people are developing the ability to remember how they looked for something, or where to find something. In effect, we are delegating certain memory functions to the cloud.

The phenomenon has implications for companies looking to get noticed and remembered online. User experience design is all about drawing the user in and providing them a good product. But what use is there for a perfect user experience, if it will be momentarily forgotten? In fact, many designers and programmers pride themselves on crafting usable products that are effectively 'invisible'. These experiences are so effortless and simple that the tool itself goes unnoticed.

Making the experience memorable though requires additional components. Narrative, dramatic arc and storytelling connect the experience to memory. Some of the best user experience design uses stories to advance users through a process, such as the "road of life" that TurboTax takes you down as you tackle different parts of your taxes (read our previous post on tax preparation software).

We don't need a study to tell us that people remember stories, but the research also shows that a memory is particularly influenced by how the story ends. For example, a single, small frustration in making final payment on a purchase, or in the final stage of submitting a loan application online can ruin an otherwise positive impression of the experience. In these cases, function and usability are trumped by a single, powerful memory.

It is possible to break through the Google Effect and awaken online users from their habitual slumber. The key is to create a significant, emotional experience designed to be remembered - fondly.