A moment of contemplation…

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  • The book went to the publisher this week and we get a little break to reflect while we wait to see it in print.

    We started writing this book because we both believe that stories are a powerful tool in user experience design. They can be used in many ways to improve both the process and the products we create.

    At first, storytelling may seem simple: you write a story and then you tell it. But stories are a much richer way of communicating. They come to life in the imaginations of the people hearing them, in a triangular relationship between storyteller, story and audience. It is these relationships that give stories so much of their power to explain, to engage the imagination, to create a shared understanding, and to persuade.

    No one who has done user research will be surprised to hear that the best stories in user experience design start by being a good audience and listening–really listening–and observing. In fact, when you get in the habit of listening carefully, you may be surprised to find stories all around you.

    When you take the time to listen and observe real people, you have more opportunities. And when you listen deeply, the stories you find will have more resonance and will be more useful as part of design process. They can go beyond simple anecdotes to express important aspects of behavior, goals, or culture. Many stories in user experience design originate in observation of, or really listening to, other people.

    Although storytelling may first appear in a user experience design process with user research, that is not where it ends. We shift from a role as a story listener to a role as a story creator and storyteller. Stories are used throughout the process, contributing to the work of understanding the context and goals of a product, sparking design ideas, providing scenarios for evaluation, and as part of the work of sharing concepts and designs outside the UX team.

    User experience stories serve a dual role of opening doors to help the audience imagine a new idea while being grounded in data. You might choose to tell a story to get beyond demographics, technology, data, and opinion and show how they translate into a user experience. You may be showing how the current experience is…well…lacking; or changing the ending to a happy and satisfied one by changing that experience.

    In the book, we’ve tried to make the case for stories as a good way to communicate. People are natural story listeners, so it’s an easy way to share information. Stories can include rich information about behavior, perspectives, and attitudes. They are an economical way to communicate contextual details. This is because when people listen to stories, their minds are engaged in the process of painting in the details. This engagement sets the stage for persuasion or a call to action.

    Despite all these reasons why stories are a valuable UX tool, it can still be hard to change your own ways of communicating, especially if you are part of a team. Habits and established templates are difficult to change. It can be hard work to get to the heart of a story, to tell it in just the right way for the audience. But we hope that you will try adding stories and storytelling to your work, or using them in some new ways.

    We’ll keep the conversation going here as well. Sharing story resources that we find and great uses of stories that we hear about.

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