Storytelling – User Experience Edition

Storytelling has been around since the beginning of time. We see evidence of storytelling from the times of the cavemen and cavewomen drawing pictures on their cave walls to communicate. We see it in hieroglyphics etched into the pyramids and temples of ancient Egypt depict their long, rich history. We see it simply sitting around with friends, sharing experiences, entertaining, teaching, or passing on traditions. Storytelling is an integral part of the human fabric. Even when we fall asleep, our brain makes sense of the day by telling us stories through dreams.

User experience and storytelling have several things in common. Storytelling is oftentimes personal, it’s captivating, you’re engaging your listeners with a relatable story that they’re able to connect with. Stories allow us to transform complex concepts into a more universal form that anyone can understand. From the time we were little, we’ve been surrounded with stories; bedtime stories, tall-tales from a grandparent, or friends embellishing their experience camping in the woods… we all know ghosts aren’t real, Brian!

Being a good story teller is a crucial part of the user experience process. Whether you’re the designer, product manager, or developer, each contributor needs to be able to walk someone through the journey of the application or platform that’s being developed.

Platforms and applications have “journeys” you ask? Yes, they absolutely do. A user journey is the experience a person has as they interact with software. Take Amazon for instance; you go to Amazon, search for a product, read the details about that product, go back to your search results and find a different product, read about it, add that product to your cart, enter payment information, shipping information, then confirm the details of your transaction. Simple right? Did you have to think about what you needed to do to complete your purchase? No! That was a successful user journey. And in its simplest form, the way I just described going to Amazon and purchasing an item is “storytelling”.

Examples of Amazon Stories

Search for product → Add to cart → View Cart → Login → Purchase

Login → View Recommended Products → View Details of a Product → One-Click Checkout

Search for a product → Add to a New Wishlist → Add Additional Items to Wishlist → Share Wishlist with friends

When building software and features within the product, the designer, product manager or developer should be able to tell the story of what the users experience and interaction should be at any time. It is vital for the success of the team to have this shared understanding of the story. At a basic level, everyone on the team is a storyteller. When software is at a point where designers are designing, developers are developing and product managers are managing, everyone understands the user persona utilizing the software and what journey they need to take to achieve their goal.

Telling a meaningful, insightful story will always yield the best result. Storytelling as part of the user experience process is crucial to the success of your product. While this may seem daunting to some, you truly do not need the gift of gab to depict the story of a user persona in your software. It can be as simple as the Amazon example above. If storytelling isn’t part of your current product development process, I highly encourage you to lead the charge and start telling the stories of your users within your product features. This is a method that is sure to quickly unify your team and create a shared understanding required for success.

Happy storytelling!