Storytelling for User Experience Blog

Crafting Stories for Better Design

Posts written by Whitney Quesenbery & Kevin Brooks

  • Storytelling in depth – 2 workshops

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    Two opportunities to dive in to the practice of storytelling for UX coming up in the Boston Area:

    Crafting Stories for Better Design – half-day workshop at UPA Boston

    In April, Whitney Quesenbery and Kevin Brooks released their book, Storytelling for User Experience. In June, they gave an overview talk of the same title at the Mini-UPA Conference, with attendees clamoring for more. So back by popular demand, Whitney and Kevin return to UPA Boston to teach an in-depth, hands-on workshop for those interested in learning how to craft their own user experience stories.

    Stories are an effective way to collect, analyze and share qualitative information from user research, spark design imagination and help us create usable products. We all tell stories all the time, but to craft a story for a particular audience, for a particular reason and effect, requires some instruction and modeling, a reasonable amount of practice, and a lot of listening.

    In this half day workshop, participants will learn the mechanics of storytelling as it applies to oral and written presentation through instruction, modeling and practice. There will be a number of small and larger group exercises that reinforce introduced concepts and allow participants to practice telling UX stories in a safe atmosphere of constructive critique. Participants are encouraged to bring their own UX story material to develop in the workshop, with the understanding that their stories will be shared with the workshop public.

    • When: Saturday, August 28, 2010
    • Instructors: Whitney Quesenbery and Kevin Brooks
    • Registration: Boston UPA website –

    Practical Storytelling: Crafting and Telling Stories for UX and Life – 2 day course in the Bentley College Certificate Program

    Storytelling is the art of crafting and presenting life and all of its varied experiences in enjoyable, rational chunks that invite the audience to feel as much as think. As a part of user experience design, stories serve to ground the work in a real context. They are an effective way to collect, analyze and share qualitative information from user research, spark design imagination and help us create usable products. But most importantly, they help keep people at the center of the work. However a UX project is started, in the end it will be used by people. Stories connect what we know about those people (the users) to the design process, even if the users can’t be part of the team.

    In this course, students will learn to craft and present oral stories for UX work or from material in their personal lives. They will learn the mechanics of the craft, which includes listening skills, guiding the audience, story structures, and managing the relationships between the teller, the story and the audience.

    Storytelling for UX: a UIE Virtual Seminar

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    Registration is open for my UIE Virtual Seminar on August 5th.

    I’ll talk a little bit about the role that stories can play in your work and how they can help you present your design ideas in a more compelling way. When you tell your story well, you’ll get buy-in for the design and you’ll have everyone on the same page. I’ll use some new case studies that provide solid examples of how this can work and examples of how simple an effective story can be.

    There’s a full description of the Storytelling for UX Virtual Seminar on the UIE site along with registration information. Use code WHITNEY when you register to get lifetime access to the recording.

    Here’s a short preview of what I’ll cover:

    Stories that persuade

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    A tweet from Karen Bachmann led me to an article in The Boston Globe, “How facts backfire.” It says:

    Facts don’t necessarily have the power to change our minds. In fact, quite the opposite. In a series of studies in 2005 and 2006, researchers at the University of Michigan found that when misinformed people, particularly political partisans, were exposed to corrected facts in news stories, they rarely changed their minds. In fact, they often became even more strongly set in their beliefs.

    If you’ve ever been in the middle of a a design debate, you might recognize this effect. The more the team argues, the more everyone is convinced of their own position, so the people with control over the next step tend to win by default. Pretty discouraging to a UX-er with strong user data to back up their “opinion.”

    The problem isn’t the ideas. It’s the way you’re presenting them: head on, fact vs. fact and diagram vs. diagram.

    What’s the solution: try a story instead. Steve Denning suggests a new persona to try if you want to persuade:

    Let us call the person who converses in this mode, homo narrans — a person who combines story-telling and analysis in a discourse that is rational, lively, imaginative, open to dialogue, entertaining and persuasive. This is the kind of person we would like to have at our dinner tables, and with whom we would be willing to discuss even the most difficult and controversial of topics. It is the sort of the person we might like to have as a friend and companion. It is the sort of person we would listen to, since conversing with homo narrans might well lead to the mutual discovery of truth.

    Next time you have the facts on your side, craft them into a story. See if it doesn’t work better than head-on argument.

    Stories that sell

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    Case studies. Customer stories. According to Casey Hibbard, they:

    “…serve a role that no other promotional tools truly fill by accomplishing three key purposes at once: credibility, education, and validation… Customer stories complement all other communications and bridge a gap between an organization and its prospective customers.”

    If you are looking for ways to sell your UX services (and who isn’t these days), Casey’s blog, Stories That Sell, is full of tips and tools for creating a compelling story.

    Getting at the vision thing

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    Whether you are running a company, a team, a product or a project, you’ve probably spent some time thinking about vision. We’re often so preoccupied with day-to-day tactics that it can be hard to step back.

    Thaler Pekar works with philanthropic organizations, using stories to help them find, develop, and share the stories and organizational narratives that rally critical support.

    In Values as Visuals on the PhilanTopic blog, she describes using a deck of visual images to “foster reflection, elicit stories, and move into collaborative problem solving.” The article describes several different tools and how organizations use them. Maybe one of them will be the key to finding the story for your UX group.

    ePUB version … hooray!

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    I’m really excited that there’s now an ePUB version of the book. Not only will it work on iPhone and iPad, but I’m running it on Aldiko, a reader for Android. The reading experience is pretty good. The illustrations look OK, search works and all the internal structural links do what I’d expect. You can see a couple of photos on Flickr.

    Even more exciting, ePUB is a format that can be accessible. I wish I could just say “This is an accessible version!” but I don’t have a good way to test it. Anyone know the answer?

    Presentations and competitions

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    We’ve been out and about with presentations in Dallas, Austin, Munich and Boston. There will be more to come with an appearance at Agile 2010 on the UX Stage, a UIE Virtual Seminar and a return to Boston in August for a half-day workshop. And you can always find Kevin at Out of the Blue Gallery on Tuesday nights with some of the best storytellers in Boston.

    We’ve posted the presentations slides on SlideShare.

    You might want to join the contest at Johnny Holland for the best answer to the question, “Why is storytelling powerful?” Just tweet the answer with #uxstory for a chance to win a book or a place in an exclusive 1-hour webinar.

    Want to find our next events? Just look here .

    Just like me: Using personalized narratives to find government services

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    We’re always on the lookout for interesting uses of stories, so a presentation at UPA 2010 caught our attention.

    We know user research can find juicy story tidbits. And that those fragments can be crafted into stories that illuminate context and motivations. We’ve seen personas used as part of navigation, to help people find the right section of a web site.

    Thea van der Geest and Lex van Velsen took this one step further. Their work at the University of Twente Center for e-Government Studies explored ways to help people navigate the complex world of government services to determine what support they are eligible for.

    Their idea is simple: create a set of narratives that show situations in which people might receive help. Let visitors to the e-government site pick one that is close to their life. But then, they allow the user to customize the narrative to make it “just like me.”

    The story shows someone living in a different city? Change it to yours. Adjust the age, gender, and income, and… Using your details, the program recalculates your eligibility and changes the story to reflect the new situation.

    This is still a research project, but initial results were promising. Participants in evaluations identified with the stories — “It’s just like me” and “I’m not the only one” and liked the personal tone of voice. They wanted to be sure the results were accurate, so the authority of the site is important. But, they had to be prompted to make changes, so there’s work to do on the interaction design.

    They reported on two projects: finding subsidies for domestic help and applying for a work permit as a new immigrant to the Netherlands. Both of these tasks cross several different government agencies, so it can be difficult to find all the information you need.

    Their conclusion about this interesting research. Personal narratives:

    • Seem to work best for those who lack confidence (self-efficacy) and seek confirmation
    • Seem to work better for determining eligibility than for creating overview of procedures
    • Make people feel that organizations ‘ know them’
    • Convey less source authority than expository text

    If you’d like to read more about the larger project, it is included in:

    Van Velsen, L., Van der Geest, T., Ter Hedde, M. & Derks, W. (2009). Requirements engineering for e-Government services: A citizen-centric approach and case study. Government Information Quarterly, 26 (3), 477-486