Book Review: Storytelling for User Experience

MakeBeliefsComix_testOne thing I’ve learned in my current work placement is that good storytelling is particularly important in UX work. Perhaps it’s something I took for granted in my last job, where I many years to build a fairly deep and broad understanding of how to reach out to whom. However, in my current role, I’m still fine tuning a few things: the right way to tell the right story to different stakeholders – and with optimal timing. These things are crucial to building successful experiences, especially in e-commerce. I’ve found a helpful tool for this: I’ve just finished reading this book: Storytelling for User Experience, by Whitney Quesenbery & Kevin Brooks.

In some ways, this book was review for me, though various chapters serve as great refresher for different techniques. Other sections boost my confidence about recent work I’ve done, and about my career direction. Still others (though maybe there is some crossover) provide new tools for my UX work as well as for writing in this space.

For example, I love to write (and edit) and as such, I tend to default to it as an approach. For the most part, this can be helpful as documentation to be referenced later, but when five paragraphs on the info panel of a wireframe file aren’t read by people who need that information, it’s time to reconsider my strategy on that front. A meeting, maybe a few are in order, to allow time for me to listen, but also to time-box an opportunity to use my voice to get the right points across. Alternatively, perhaps a more visual, illustrative approach – one using charts or cartoons (like the comic above or in a storyboard) – would aid better in comprehension for some parties.

Another area in the book that I found particularly insightful was a run-down of some typical, familiar story structures for storytelling. These frameworks will likely be helpful for future posts in this blog, too! These are: Prescriptive, Hero, Familiar to Foreign, Framed, Layered, and Contextual Interludes. Now that I have this in pocket, listening to The Moth Radio Hour stories or Ted Talks could be illuminating in an additional way. It might also help me in my yoga teaching, where I’ve been a little shy with dharma (instructive, upon a theme) talks, but I’d like to dip my toes in it. Some of my favorite yoga teachers are good at it and it makes the class experience richer, for me.

The authors hinted at this and I’ll bet if I do an analysis of the structure/s in my stories, it may be true: the stories may follow some of those patterns already. I was such a good reader as a kid that my brain may tend to construct stories following one or two simple models. I’m guessing it’s a blend of the “Framed” and “Contextual Interludes” types.

My third big takeaway: it’s easy to fall into a medium or technique that is familiar, especially if it’s made using software (or a technique, i.e. persuasive writing) that was expensive and/or took some time to learn.

For several weeks now, I’ve been working on a post here, related to the yoga content/topic in the comic above. My story kept bloating into something that needed condensing! I made this strip using a tool cited in the book (try it: Make Beliefs Comix), and finally I’m happier with my message – not a whole lot more needs to be added. Lessons learned from a pincha mayurasana streak: a daily yoga practice yields rewards beyond the original intention – and possibly before the expected rewards arrive. Bam! Done.

In sum: build out your toolkit for telling stories in your work as a user experience architect or designer. Some methods may prove more effective, depending on who is listening – sometimes it’s most important for you to be the listener! – and where you are in the product development. Read this book!


Me, at the end of a week of #yogaeverydamnday in Mexico

Just in case you want a few more words on my yoga topic: here is a handful of insightful reads on the bounty of riches to be revealed by a daily yoga practice. Enjoy: