UX and Story

The most powerful way to connect with another person is through storytelling. It’s a fundamental way that we, as humans, are programmed in order to relate to the world and the information we receive. The user experience process is always obsessed with knowing the user by asking what their story is and building a persona. Key questions include: What are their obstacles to achieving an objective? What are their needs? I believe there is an opportunity to connect to our users if we added the need for storytelling (and not just story gathering) into our process. What would that simple change look like? 

If we compare the ingredients of a story to user experience, we can start to think about the wires, site maps, journey maps as the plot. Elements such as CTA’s, modules, images, copy, and video can be considered characters. Focus more on relationships and what they mean to one another. What characters need to be on stage. When do they need to exit and why. When do we need to introduce a new one and what does that do to the relationships established. We can use music cues, haptic feedback, motion and sound to underscore these elements in much the same way as any film. We know that UX is largely mission-focused i.e., what we reveal during the research phase are the needs of our users. UX then endeavors to devise paths to overcome roadblocks that get in the way of what the user wants or needs. What if we thought about that mission as the McGuffin, the trigger for the plot? I imagine that would inherently focus the experience and plant the language of story deeply within the UX process. As such, when the process moves along what needs to be written or designed, it is almost de facto, a natural extension. 

Let’s take two popular stories we all know – Star Wars and Star Trek. They are both compelling narratives but with very different storytelling priorities. Star Trek is all about providing the audience with details on how things work and what things are. There is no end to Scotty revealing how the mechanics work on the Enterprise or Spock elaborating on what a new life is. On the other hand, Star Wars doesn’t give a whiff if you know how a lightsaber works or what the hyperdrive is. Yet, both stories resonate with us, and for some, they resonate very deeply. The “what” and the “why” of a plot is malleable. If the story is solid, it will resonate. Many brands have their own universes which are full of different sites, apps, and wearable tech. As they endeavor to tie them all together, this organizing principle makes it easier to visualize. We may have a way to guide our clients and stakeholders through the process and help them realize what kind of story their brand is telling at every touch point. 

The digital landscape is becoming increasingly competitive. The outlets for brands to tell their stories is becoming ever more fractured. Indeed, now that we are all in the throws of the pandemic, many people are living online. Brands like Zoom are garnering mindshare by sheer utility. However, just like when Amazon was a simple link farm before it embraced design to set itself apart from a landscape that became flooded with ecommerce, it set off a trend that is well embraced by everyone today. What will happen when the Skypes of the world catch up with utility? There is a lot of murmuring about desirability at the moment. I don’t think it’s really a debate. We simply have to elevate our process and welcome storytelling the same way we welcomed design. There is nothing that engenders fierce loyalty and identity more. After all, let’s not forget the recognizable “dong” sound as you open up your Mac. This small aspect is completely unnecessary yet indispensable to the experience of Apple products. Some would say it’s the same as the Fox fanfare just before watching Star Wars.

Categories: Experience Design, Visual Design
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