Storytelling in UX Design

Stories are everywhere

We might start our day consuming some news, move on to our inbox, and then sit down in a meeting. Most of these moments are presented to us as a story, and while that story might be more or less obvious in any given day, trust that our brain is looking for the plot on some level. Before humans had written language, we shared and stored information in the format of story. Whether we came wired that way or adapted to that thought pattern, the written word has only encouraged our brains to grow in that direction.

In the daily life of most UX designers, we create an abundance of documentation. We’re constantly trying to sort and make sense of our client’s data, and then generate these documents to outline a plan for our client and communicate with our team. Some of this documentation naturally follows a story format, like User Scenarios or a Process Flow while documents like Personas and Site Maps do not. Regardless, they are all integral pieces that contribute greatly to the goal of communication. In Dan M. Brown’s book Communicating Design, he addresses the importance of documentation, however if it’s done only for it’s own sake, the effort is wasted. It’s not always easy to tell the value of creating a piece of documentation from the trenches, so coming up with a way to quickly draw that line can drastically impact the clarity of our message and the time spent doing so.

I think one of the most effective ways we can draw that line is with story.

When I go back through the documentation I’ve produced for past projects, far too often it reads like Christopher Nolan’s Memento. Sound familiar? While this is an engaging movie for a puzzle solving mind, it does not present a great plot for a client meeting.

When creating documentation, take a minute to think about the story being written. Make sure the important characters or plot lines are present, and remember that every good story has a beginning, middle and end.

Most of all, understand that the story presented is just a chapter in the story of the client’s business. The most successful documentation will fit nicely within their existing narrative.