Your constantly-updated definition of Storytelling and collection of topical content and literature

What is Storytelling?

Designers use storytelling to get insight into users, build empathy and reach them emotionally. Designers create personas to represent target users and add conflict to stories that reflect their user journeys and problems. Crafting stories, designers can better understand what users want from a solution.

See why users love stories.

How Storytelling Works in Design

Good stories always captivate audiences. In user experience (UX) design, you use storytelling throughout the design process to ensure that all work focuses on the users’ needs and the value you want to give those users. After completing design research to understand your users’ needs and desires, you use your insights to tell a story about who your users are, what they need and how you’ll provide that. This story makes it easy for everyone involved in the project to empathize with the users and ensure that their work matches the story. Having a story throughout your project means marketing the design at the end of the design process is also straightforward, as you already know exactly which story to tell to show how your product provides value.

“People think that stories are shaped by people. In fact, it’s the other way around.”

—Terry Pratchett, Famous fantasy author

What Makes Good Stories?

The renowned philosopher Aristotle wrote extensively on storytelling. His formula is a checklist for what your stories should contain.

  1. PlotWhat are users trying to achieve/overcome?
  2. CharacterWho are the users: not just demographically, but what insights do you need to understand what they (and their needs) are truly like?
  3. ThemeHow can you establish a trustworthy presence to them and still set yourself apart from competitors? How will you reflect the overall obstacles users must overcome?
  4. Dialogue/DictionWhat will your design say to users and how? Does a formal/informal tone match their expectations? How much text is appropriate?
  5. MelodyHow will the overall design pattern appear pleasant and predictable to users, moving them emotionally?
  6. DécorHow will you present everything so the graphics match the setting the users can sense? Would a classic design or stylized, niche layout meet their expectations?
  7. SpectacleHow can you make your design outstanding so users will remember it?

How to Reach Users through Stories

You can use storytelling in your design process to present your user research results in an engaging way and create empathy with your target users. This will help you steer the design process and keep it user-centric. Here’s what you can do:

  1. Define your target users with personas – to envision users’ likely experiences and gain empathic insights. Personas are based on user research but tell a story about your insights. An example persona might be “Rick”, a 47-year-old manager struggling with his work–family-life balance. He even works on his train commutes. Feeling drained, he wants better control of his life.
  2. Create a plot, with conflict – to make the personas heroes and envision how they can overcome specific problems using your design. Make this a mapped-out journey or storyboard with each persona’s aim/s clearly defined. E.g.:
    1. Rick discovers your (yet-to-be-designed) time-management app online. He downloads it and completes your questionnaire about work commitments, family, outgoings, etc.
    2. He starts using your app, letting it collect data from his phone and fitness tracker about time on various tasks/activities, stress levels, alertness, etc.
    3. After a week, your app charts his tasks and activities, including sleep, heart-rate data, etc.
    4. Tapping a phone tab, Rick sees time-management suggestions on how to become more productive, well-rested, etc.
    5. He has the option to continue or suspend monitoring (e.g., if on holiday/vacation).
  3. Give your design the supporting role – show it improving your persona’s/user’s life and how easy it is to use. For example, consider how many steps Rick needs to use your app and if voice-controlled devices at home might influence its suggestions.
  4. Work with the setting When and where users use your design is vital for building empathy. For Rick, it’s the home, train and workplace. But what about (e.g.) busy professionals working from home?
  5. Tailor the look/feel – Your design’s appearance is vital regardless of its functional benefits, so design the most appropriate (e.g.) layout, colors, typography. For example, Rick prioritizes an at-a-glance, easy-to-use design, but soothing colors would complement larger fonts, etc.

Always Consider

  • The What – The user problem/s you define: E.g., They work too much overtime because of…? Budgeting problems at home?
  • The Who – The users themselves, envisioned through personas. This includes people who play influential roles in the main user’s/persona’s story. You can identify them using customer journey maps.
  • The How – Your story arc, with a beginning, middle and end. From introducing the player/s at the beginning, you build towards their biggest problems (which many factors can affect) and finish with the happy ending your design delivers.

Your story narratives are “magic mirrors”—proving fine-tuned empathy and connection with users’ values—where users discover how to make their own happy endings.

Ultimately, your design should predict your target users’ actions at every level possible. Testing will help confirm how successful it is.

Learn More about Storytelling

Take our course featuring storytelling:

Here’s an in-depth, example-rich treatise on storytelling:

Discover storytelling’s importance for apps:

Read UX designer and product strategist Sarah Doody’s account of storytelling’s value:

Find helpful insights about visual storytelling:

Literature on Storytelling

Here’s the entire UX literature on Storytelling by the Interaction Design Foundation, collated in one place:

Learn more about Storytelling

Take a deep dive into Storytelling with our course Design Thinking: The Beginner’s Guide .

Some of the world’s leading brands, such as Apple, Google, Samsung, and General Electric, have rapidly adopted the design thinking approach, and design thinking is being taught at leading universities around the world, including Stanford, Harvard, and MIT. What is design thinking, and why is it so popular and effective?

The overall goal of this design thinking course is to help you design better products, services, processes, strategies, spaces, architecture, and experiences. Design thinking helps you and your team develop practical and innovative solutions for your problems. It is a human-focused, prototype-driven, innovative design process. Through this course, you will develop a solid understanding of the fundamental phases and methods in design thinking, and you will learn how to implement your newfound knowledge in your professional work life. We will give you lots of examples; we will go into case studies, videos, and other useful material, all of which will help you dive further into design thinking.

This course contains a series of practical exercises that build on one another to create a complete design thinking project. The exercises are optional, but you’ll get invaluable hands-on experience with the methods you encounter in this course if you complete them, because they will teach you to take your first steps as a design thinking practitioner. What’s equally important is you can use your work as a case study for your portfolio to showcase your abilities to future employers! A portfolio is essential if you want to step into or move ahead in a career in the world of human-centered design.

Design thinking methods and strategies belong at every level of the design process. However, design thinking is not an exclusive property of designers—all great innovators in literature, art, music, science, engineering, and business have practiced it. What’s special about design thinking is that designers and designers’ work processes can help us systematically extract, teach, learn, and apply these human-centered techniques in solving problems in a creative and innovative way—in our designs, in our businesses, in our countries, and in our lives.

That means that design thinking is not only for designers but also for creative employees, freelancers, and business leaders. It’s for anyone who seeks to infuse an approach to innovation that is powerful, effective and broadly accessible, one that can be integrated into every level of an organization, product, or service so as to drive new alternatives for businesses and society.

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