In my last post, I mentioned that — if designers must step up to the plate and become skilled facilitators — some visual thinking techniques might come in handy, which can be drawn from design thinking, data analytics, system thinking, game-storming, and lean start-up.
- I’ve mentioned that I’ve found that — more often than not — it is not for the lack of ideas that teams cannot innovate but because of all the friction or drag created by not having a shared vision and understanding of the problems they are trying to solve.
- Developing shared memories and meaning is important to creating shared understanding within a team.
- For developing shared memories, research shows a powerful connection between story, place, and emotion and building memories.
- It’s been proven that the real efficacy of storytelling list three standout features of stories that can help us do our jobs as business leaders: Stories are memorable. Stories convey emotion. Stories are meaningful.
- By itself, this data isn’t very useful. It isn’t actionable and doesn’t help the teams move forward with their creative design process. Designers help the team synthesize and build a rich understanding of problems, products, and customers by using various methods from their toolbox, including storytelling, visualization, and facilitation.
- Stories can be integrated into our strategy process as a way to synthesize user research and design insights since they help keep the user experience in the picture as the team makes detailed designs and technical decisions.
- Stories are all around us if you just listen to them. The trick to getting to good stories in your user research is to make the time for them: Listen to the conversations taking place, keeping an ear out for time markers — you’ll be surprised at just how many stories begin with these.
- A story describes what happened. A good story helps you see what happened. A great story helps you feel what happened.
Discussing Design and Shared Understanding
In the second post of this series, I mentioned that I’ve found that — more often than not — it is not for the lack of ideas that teams cannot innovate but because of all the friction or drag created by not having a shared vision and understanding of what the problems they are trying to solve.
To make sure I’m not misunderstood: it doesn’t matter at that point if the team lacks a vision or the vision is just poorly communicated. The result is the same: the team will lack engagement and slowly drift apart.
Teams that attain a shared understanding are far more likely to get a great design than those that fail to develop a common perception of the project’s goals and outcome (Jared Spool, “Attaining a Collaborative Shared Understanding” in Govella, A., Collaborative Product Design, 2019).
Developing shared memories and meaning is important to creating shared understanding within a team. Theoretically, developing shared meaning requires achieving a shared understood lexicology, schema, or language in which to communicate, despite differences in backgrounds (education, training, experience, fields, etc.) of the team members (S.Y.T. Lang et al. / Computers in Industry 48 (2002) 89–98).
For developing shared memories, research is showing a powerful connection between story, place, and emotion and building memories (Vox., “Memory, Explained,” 2019):
- Story: few people can remember up to 20,000 digits of Pi, yet many actors and readers can recite Hamlet, which has more than 50,000 words.
- Place: the most accurate memories people had of 9/11 three years after the incident was where they were.
- Emotions are the foundation of our strongest memories. For example, people are more likely to remember faces that express emotions.
Narrative is a way of understanding one’s and others’ actions, organizing events and objects into a meaningful whole, and connecting and seeing the consequences of actions and events. (Chase, S. E., Narrative Inquiry: Multiple Lenses, Approaches, Voices, 2005)
It’s been proven that the real efficacy of storytelling list in three standout features of stories that can help us do our jobs as business leaders (Callahan, S., Putting Stories to Work, 2016):
- Stories are memorable. There is no point in saying something if it’s forgettable.
- Stories convey emotion. People are inspired to act when they feel emotion.
- Stories are meaningful. In a complex work environment, people need to be able to make sense of what’s going on and how they fit in.
When we are facing hard times in getting our concepts along, instead of blaming others for not “getting it,” we should ask ourselves, “what did I do wrong?” By being conscious of how you are crafting the narrative about your team’s progress and about how solutions work in the lives of those who use them, you can help make the ideas and decisions of the group stick. Telling the story of the collaboration is as important as the collaboration itself in many ways (Anderson, G., Mastering Collaboration, 2019).
Storytelling as Synthesis
As product leaders and design strategists conduct product discovery and user research-related activities, they generate a large amount of raw data (Lewrick, M., Link, P., & Leifer, L., The Design Thinking Playbook. 2018).
By itself, this data isn’t very useful. It isn’t actionable and doesn’t help the teams move forward with their creative design process.
Designers help the team synthesize and build a rich understanding of problems, products, and customers by using various methods from their toolbox, including storytelling, visualization, and facilitation.
Storytelling is a very important tool for methods like Contextual Inquiry. While capturing the affinity notes during the interpretation session, the notetaker can also capture other kinds of notes (Wendell, J., Holtzblatt, K., & Wood, S. (2005). Rapid contextual design, 2005):
- Questions: When the team gets bogged down over a question the interviewees can’t answer, the notetaker captures it in the affinity notes and encourages the group to move on.
- Design ideas: ideas for solutions that team members produce are captured to ensure they are preserved and, again, to encourage the team to move on and remain focused.
- Good User Quotes and Stories: these can be used later when communicating with the rest of the organization.
- Interpretations: The team will hear the data and draw interpretations of how it represents a work pattern or implies an inner experience
Stories can be integrated into our strategy process as a way to synthesize user research and design insights since (Brooks, K., & Quesenbery, W. Storytelling for User Experience, 2014):
- They describe a context or situation, like stories that are part of personas.
- They can illustrate problems and “pain points,” explaining why a new experience is needed.
- They can be the starting point for a design discussion, explore a new design concept, or describe a new design.
Discussing Design as Stories
One good reason to use stories with design specifications is to keep the real-world context available for reference. As the conversation moves into technical details, it’s easy to forget what feature was added or how it might be used.
These days, it’s virtually impossible to communicate user needs or discuss designs with product teams without running into conversations around scenarios (Carroll, J.M., 2003), user stories (Wiegers, K., & Beatty, J. Software Requirements, 2013), personas (Cooper et al., 2014), storyboards (Buxton, 2007), narrative structures (Freytag, 1900), and many other story forms in best practices in user experience methodologies.
Personas, Scenarios, and User Stories are the de-facto standard for communicating user requirements to product development teams.
Discussing Design through Personas and Scenarios
A typical persona description should synthesize the most important details observed during research, becoming an effective communication tool. This persona narrative should not contain every observed detail: it quickly introduces the persona in terms of his job or lifestyle. It briefly stretches a day in his life, including peeves, concerns, and interests that directly affect the product (Cooper, A., Reimann, R., Cronin, D., & Noessel, C., About face, 2014). This persona narrative or story should express what the person is looking for in the product by way of a conclusion and should be very informative to the design strategy.
A scenario describes human activities or tasks in a story that allows exploration and discussion of texts, needs, and requirements. It does not necessarily describe the use of the software or other technological support used to achieve a goal. (Sharp, H., Preece, J., & Rogers, Y., Interaction Design: Beyond Human-Computer Interaction, 2019).
Context scenarios address questions such as the following:
- In what setting(s) will the product be used?
- Will it be used for extended amounts of time?
- Is the persona frequently interrupted?
- Do several people use a single workstation or device?
- With what other products will it be used?
- What primary activities does the person need to perform to meet her goals?
- What is the expected end result of using the product?
- How much complexity is permissible, based on persona skill and frequency of use?
Discussing Design through Goals and Principles
If personas and scenarios are the starting point, goals and principles are the finish line (Connor, A., & Irizarry, A., Discussing Design, 2015):
For whatever aspect of a design you’re critiquing, you can ask of them, “Does this help us reach our goal of …” or “Does this adhere to the principle of … that we set?” Followed by “How?” and “Why?” (Connor, A., & Irizarry, A., Discussing Design, 2015):
Goals are the desired, measurable outcomes that result from a product being used. The team should feel that the goals set forth are achievable and meaningful, and they should correlate to a change in user behavior.
Principles are the qualities and characteristics the product will exhibit in its content, behavior, and so on as people use it and interact with it. Good principles should be somewhat specific. Characteristics like “fun” or “amusing” don’t make good principles because they are still pretty broad, and each team member might have a different interpretation of what “fun” is.
Good design principles act as constraints and filtering mechanisms for detailed design ideas. By being specific:
Suppose personas and user stories are common in ways of communicating requirements to product development teams. How come product teams either lack a vision at the beginning of a project or slowly stray away from it as the project lifecycle goes on? I’ll argue that while personas and user stories have been great for triggering conversations around what users are trying to accomplish at a task level, systems are becoming more complex. It is becoming harder and harder to conciliate users’ goals at the task level with the experience at that system level. We will talk about some techniques to address these challenges when we talk about Storytelling and Mapping.
Storytelling starts with Listening
Stories are all around us if you listen to them. The trick to getting to good stories in your user research is to make the time for them (Brooks, K., & Quesenbery, W. Storytelling for User Experience, 2014):
- Look for juicy stories in any user research as you observe or review your notes.
- Learn to ask questions that encourage people to tell stories.
- Thinking out loud procedures can keep the conversation and stories flowing comfortably.
- You can find stories in many places, including search logs, customer service records, survey data, and even internal staff who work with users.
Listen to the conversations taking place, keeping an ear out for time markers — you’ll be surprised at just how many stories begin with these. Notice the types of stories being told. How long are they? Who are the heroes, and who are the villains? Now notice how you respond to the stories. How do they make you feel? Do any give you emotion? (Callahan, S., Putting Stories to Work, 2016)
Keep a mental note of any stories that generate an emotion. These are powerful stories (Callahan, S., Putting Stories to Work, 2016).
Discussing Design, Storytelling, and Stakeholder Management
Although each audience has its dynamics, there are a few types you meet often enough to generalize about them. This is not an exhaustive list, but a few of the most common personas (Brooks, K., & Quesenbery, W. Storytelling for User Experience, 2014):
- Strategic leaders: People who need to generate and maintain a common vision for their company or group of products.
- Managers: people with a mission—often a product—who need to make the decisions that keep their entire team on track toward a common goal.
- Technical experts: people who implement a vision, making myriad of detailed decisions that add up to a product or service.
If you are presenting stories to created shared understanding around strategy or design, consider what details help make a story authentic for them and how a story might have to change to take into consideration.
A Story is also a promise to share something that the audience doesn’t know. To qualify as a story, there more be something unanticipated. It doesn’t have to be great insights, but the listeners should — at least — raise their eyebrows a little. That’s what makes a story-worthy (Callahan, S., Putting Stories to Work, 2016)
Stories for Leaders
When you create a story for a leader, show how the idea you are “selling” makes a bridge between users and the business. For example:
- Identify a pain post that users experience and then show the solution.
- Identify a gap in the market and show a new way to fill it with a new product or a change in the current one.
- Identify a new approach by reconfiguring common or existing components in an unconventional way.
- Identify trends in your customers’ user experience and how that affects the business.
Stories for Managers
Managers usually don’t have a lot of time to spare. More often than not, they like short, concise meetings, not leisurely brainstorming sessions or deep dives into user research. Don’t plan to tell long detailed stories to this audience. Instead, think about when a story can have the most impact.
- Use stories to kick off new idea, especially if you need a bit of context to explain how it will work.
- If you are bringing bad news from research, such as the discovery that the target audience doesn’t really want or like a new product idea, make sure to show how the story is typical of a group what important as customers, users, or other stakeholders.
- If you are presenting a new idea, find a way to connect it to a well known situation, so that it seems more plausible. You might even do both in one story: present a problem and a solution on a simple narrative
- Most importantly, don’t get bogged down in detailed specifications or technology.
Storytelling, Narratives and Storyboarding
Inspired by the work of Bill Buxton, my colleague Anton Fischer and I have been borrowing tools from filmmaking to create shared understanding around vision before actually working on details design, namely Scenarios, Scripts/Narratives, and Storyboard.
Narratives and Scripts
The purpose of scriptwriting is to create the main concept of your video production in written form. It provides a predetermined look at what will be said and what scenes will be shot to match the overall message you’re trying to portray. Your script will help you plan ahead as you prepare the many different aspects that will come together to make the final product. Writing a script will also give you a better idea of the direction you’d like to go with your strategy. It may give you a better idea of who you want to be in the video and what their role will be. You’ll be able to decide whether you’re going to have an actor or an owner of the business be the one in the video and whether they’ll do a voiceover or be on-screen (Derrick, L., Why scriptwriting is a major part of video production, 2020)
Before you start sketching scenes, you need to plan a storyline for the storyboard you want to create. Some aspects to consider when describing a storyline are (Buxton, B., Sketching user experiences: Getting the design right and the right design, 2007):
- Where does the interaction take place?
- What is the problem?
- What is the task that people are trying to do?
- Which people are present, and what are their actions?
- What kind of objects or digital devices do they use?
- What are the possible input and outputs for each digital system? How do the actions of people or devices solve the problem
From Script to Storyboards
In the video production world, you’ll hear the term “storyboards” used a lot. They’re a great way to visualize your shot list and prepare to move into production. A storyboard is a sequence of drawings representing the shots planned for video production. It covers all of your film’s major shots, angles, and actions. The storyboard is a very important part of the pre-production process because it clearly conveys how the story will flow, as you can see how your shots work together. It also allows you to see potential problems that would not go unnoticed, ultimately saving you time and money (Elemental Media, The importance of using storyboards, 2020).
So, the first advantage of using storyboards for communicating design concepts is how useful it is as a pre-production tool.
Stories give action to ideas and place them in a context of use. Therefore, Storyboarding is an ideal way to visualize people experiencing your new idea in action (LUMA Institute. Innovating for People: Handbook of Human-Centered Design Methods, 2012).
So, the second advantage of using storyboards for communicating design concepts is how useful it is to translate the behavior described in the scripts into a visual language that most people are comfortable with.
Storyboards don’t have to be masterful pieces of artwork; they need to convey a meaningful sequence of events. Even primitive drawings can help you envision the possibilities of new interactive, cinematic, or transactional experiences (LUMA Institute, Innovating for People: Handbook of Human-Centered Design Methods, 2012).
A narrative storyboard uses a sequence of images to tell a more complete story about people’s interaction over time, where each image in the storyboard represents a particular event. They communicate information about the location where the interaction takes place, present the people as personalities, and provide details about the other actions and things people are doing as they interact (Greenberg, S., Carpendale, S., Marquardt, N., & Buxton, B., The Narrative Storyboard, 2012).
Ultimately, the benefits of a storyboard are (LUMA Institute, Innovating for People: Handbook of Human-Centered Design Methods, 2012):
- They show what a concept looks like in action
- They help people imagine the future
- They build a shared understanding
- They help gain support from decision-makers.
Emphasise Actions and Motions
If needed, you can now add visual annotations to the sketches. Annotations (drawn in yellow below) are a valuable way of indicating and emphasizing important motions or actions that are otherwise difficult to show in a static image (Greenberg, S., Carpendale, S., Marquardt, N., & Buxton, B., The Narrative Storyboard, 2012)
Demonstrate and Iterate with Others
Try other variations of this scenario by building alternate scenarios, such as the airport and bus stop situation described earlier. Also, try developing a separate interface storyboard showing what the person does on screen; use this to explain the details the person must do in a particular frame above. Get feedback from colleagues, friends, or clients. At this point, use that feedback to see if your storyboard is effective: do they understand your story, i.e., how you envisage the context of the use of the system by the actors portrayed within it? (Greenberg, S., Carpendale, S., Marquardt, N., & Buxton, B., The Narrative Storyboard, 2012).
Use this checklist to amplify your work’s action, emotion, and sensory impact. Don’t worry about answering every
question. See where these prompts take you as your narrative skills expand (Lupton, E., Design is Storytelling. 2017):
- How does your project depict action? Are people, objects, or design elements shown in a state of change or potential transformation? Does your project deliver a call to action to users?
- How does the user participate in your project? What will users do with your project?
- Have you offered users a chance to embark on a journey? Is their path free or controlled?
- Could your project affect someone’s behavior? How might people respond to the work?
- Does your project express a single dominant mood or a mood that changes over time?
- What moods and emotions might users experience as they engage with your work?
- Where will users encounter high and low points of energy, emotion, or feeling?
- Where are potential pain points? Where could there be rewards?
- Have you used color or imagery to represent an emotion or to convey symbolic content?
- Have you had an opportunity to build empathy with potential users?
- Have you included users in your process?
- What is the personality of your project? How is that personality expressed?
- What visual journeys does your project offer to viewers?
- Have you used Gestalt principles to create clear groupings?
- Have you engaged viewers in active, creative looking?
- Will a user with a specific task in mind find what they are looking for?
- Have you used design elements to invite action from users?
- Have you engaged senses beyond vision (such as touch, sound, smell, or taste)?
- Have you used color, texture, or form to amplify the nonvisual senses?
Design Strategist Multiplication Program
Such a program is practice-based, accompanied by a series of seminars, corresponding required reading, and reflective practice journaling to create opportunities for people to grow.
In the next post, I will talk more about Storytelling and Vision.
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