Whenever I speak, teach workshops or deliver trainings, or write about about using a story-first approach to craft intended customer experiences with products, services, and brands, I get great follow up reports and questions from attendees. Usually, they are trying the approach out in their own practice and have questions about how to refine their process. Or they have a case study or example that they want to share. Sometimes they want more examples of the type of story-engineering I advocate. Sometimes all of the above. As I was replying to one such email today, I decided that my reply was too good to share with just one person. Good because I absolutely love the two examples that I list – one from Paul Rissen at the BBC and the other from Michael Leis at Digitas Health. They nicely illustrate what I talk about when I advocate for not just telling, but building stories. Enjoy.
I’m currently at the front end of figuring out how the entire company can empathize with our users. Small task right!?!! I want to push a variety of experiences but I am feeling that story telling is going to be key.
I’m currently gathering thoughts and artifacts…I’m wondering if you have a personal “list” of favourite stories being told that you might share?
I’m so glad you’re working on this. As you know, it’s not just storytelling, but storymaking (i.e. setting the stage so that users and customers experience interactions with your product or brand like a good story) is essential to building successful products and services. I’ll have a TON of examples (from brands like Pinterest, Twitter, Slack, Fantasical, Facebook, and more) in my book, which should be out by the end of the year (maybe even sooner!). Until then, here are two great examples from colleagues that illustrate the approach I teach to students and clients – both revolve around not just telling, but constructing structurally sound story-like experiences that feel and operate like a story:
- Behavioral Storytelling: Social Content Strategy
Michael Leis, Brand Social Strategy Consultant at Digitas Health
- Storytelling and the Semantic Web
Paul Rissen, BBC
I’ve also got two more talks and one article that can give you some more examples:
- Story First: A Narrative Approach to Building Successful Products and Services
- Storymapping: A MacGyver Approach to Content Strategy
(this is a talk and workshop I give with Lis Hubert – we’ve got a case study you can read — the meat part is in Part 2)
I hope that gives you something to go on until the book comes out!
And…I hope that gives you all something to go on until the book comes out, too.
Yes! And No.
I talk about stories. A lot. I use stories and their underlying structure as a way to make sense of complex problems. I also use them to envision, plan for, and build products and services that are not only usable, but that people want to use and enjoy using. And for the last couple of years, I’ve been teaching others how to do the same. These are people, like you, who want better tools to do better work so that they can better engage an audience and build things that are, not just engaging, but successful. The thing about all of this teaching and working is that it’s exhausting. And, it’s all one big cliffhanger.
You see, I introduce people to this approach by traveling the world, giving talks, facilitating trainings and workshops, teaching college courses, and working directly with clients and teams. People love what I teach, find value in the approach, and start applying what they learn immediately in their jobs. That makes me happy because I want people to build awesome things and do great work.
But I’m only one person and can only work with so many people at the same time – until I can figure out the whole wormhole, time travel thing.
Books, like the one I am writing – especially in the age of e-publishing – have the ability to do what no human can do (yet!): traverse time and space, be anywhere and everywhere at once, and be accessible to anyone and everyone who can purchase or borrow a book at a store or library. Since I can’t teleport myself all over the world (yet!) to introduce people to this approach, I’m doing the next best thing: writing a book for you take anywhere and everywhere. So that you, too, can build more awesome things.
The other reason I am writing this book is to provide closure where there is otherwise a cliffhanger. After people learn about this story-based approach, they often ask if I can recommend a book on the subject. I searched for that book. I found great books tangentially on the topic. But I couldn’t exactly find what people needed. I want to start saying yes when you ask me for further reading. Because you’re all a bit nerdy and like to read. And that’s awesome. It’s how you get from novice to expert and how you go from creating things that are good to great. So I’m going on a little journey. For you.
I’m reading all the books I can find on the topic for you and am packaging them up into one handy guide. So you can keep being awesome. I’m also talking to tons of people for you – people who use story structure to build awesome interactive things. I want to tell you about what they’re doing so you learn from them and see what works and what doesn’t.
But, wait, another book about stories?
There are wonderful books out there (some published by this very publisher) that talk generally about how to use stories as part of a successful design practice. Or you might have learned about story-based tools, like scenarios or even Agile user stories in a book. They’re all great. But…
I’m not talking about using stories. And I’m not talking about telling stories. All of which, I highly recommend. I’m talking about building products and services as if you are crafting a story.
Brick by brick. Beginning, middle, end, plot points, narrative structure. All of it.
Why? Because story art and craft is one of the best and oldest ways to engage an audience. You’re probably already using it in your work without realizing it. I want you to not only realize it, but start approaching every project (well, most projects) from this perspective. Not just story-first, but structure first. Just like screenwriters do for movies – and just like I learned in film school…for movies. There are a gazillion books on story art and craft…for writers, filmmakers, game designers and artists who dabble in this funny thing called interactive narrative…but they’re not for you. You build websites, software, tools, services, not necessarily art or entertainment.
Story and the storylines that flow through a good story are powerful tools. And powerful tools like this shouldn’t be just for filmmakers, writers, and artists. Designers, product managers, developers, strategists, marketers…no, you’re not storytellers, but, like it or not, you are in the business of making stories happen. Neuroscientists say so. And I believe them. And I’ve seen it work – not just in theory, but in practice. I want to show you how.
- Behavioral Storytelling: Social Content Strategy