Storytelling Your Way to a Great User Experience

by Bob Prohaska

A little while back I sat down with my son to read a book just before bed. The book that night was “The Very Hungry Caterpillar.” This classic is the journey of a caterpillar, who, page by page, ate its way through the book until ultimately becoming a butterfly. The simple, linear nature of this book is perfectly geared toward my little guy (and is still one of my favorite kid books). But it got me thinking about the kinds of stories that resonate with us as adults; stories with a little more nuance and depth.

How often do new web design projects stay at the level of “The Very Hungry Caterpillar,” only considering each page individually, in a simple, linear manner (starting with the home page and continuing from there)? The more complex ways in which customers might actually experience our website are never considered because we’re too concerned about web pages, features, and content in isolation. But there’s a simple solution to considering the whole customer engagement journey ... tell their story.

At GS, we love using storytelling to guide the experiences we craft. Narrative is at the core of the “Creative Sprint” we use when kicking off a new digital experience. This story becomes the guide for explaining the context of the experience, how the experience should feel to our customers, and what pages/features/content the experience should consist of. A few simple steps can help you craft great narratives that serve as roadmaps to any digital experience you’re creating.

Talk to your subject matter experts

So where do we start? Your internal employees contain a wealth of customer information. They should be your first stop when trying to understand your customer’s story. Talk with those employees who have the most direct contact with your customers. Customer service and sales have an intimate knowledge of what your customers are looking for and will point you in the right direction when it comes to setting up conversations with these customers. In the end, talking to the right customers is more important than talking to just any customers; quality over quantity.

Talk to your customers

Don’t just take your employees’ words for it. For the purposes of crafting a great user experience, the stories we create need to be grounded in real life. Narratives that tell a great story but don’t reflect the lives of our customers are of limited value. So it’s best to start with some preliminary customer research. This research can be as quick or extensive as you would like. The important part is to be confident that the story you’re telling reflects the lives of your customers and addresses the things that are most important to them.

The key to getting the most out of your customer conversations is to ask open-ended questions that get the person talking about their experiences. Make notes about the specific points at which the person touches your company (touchpoints). Also note their feelings, motivations, pain points, and desires. These will be the ingredients in developing a customer story that’s multifaceted and engaging.

Craft a story

After doing preliminary business and user research, we get to work developing a narrative story for our primary personas based on what we learned. Our focus is to tell an engaging, multifaceted story that explains the customer’s journey and highlights the challenges they face across all of the relevant touchpoints. The story should set the stage, explain the customer’s state of mind, and expose their expectations.

Illustrate the story

With story in hand, we can start to break it apart into scenes. Are there parts of the story that could be better explained with a page mockup, photo, or sketch? Preparing designs in the context of a narrative ensures that the interface meets the expectations of the customer at a particular moment in their story, serves to illustrate which features are truly important, and helps develop a more cohesive experience.

In the end, if you follow these basic steps, you’ll have a storyboard-style narrative that’s illustrated at key points and helps to tell a cohesive story about your customer, how your company fits into their journey, and what the future might look like for the experience you’re starting to develop. Instead of thinking about pages and interfaces in a vacuum, they now have a place and purpose in the experiences of your customers. It doesn’t matter if your customer’s journey is as simple as a kid’s book or as nuanced as a novel. As long as your story is true to life and is used to guide the interface design, the results will be a cohesive experience that promotes brand loyalty, and meets the needs and expectations of your customers.


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