What are User Stories?
User stories are short statements about a feature, written from a user’s perspective. A well-defined user story does not spell out the exact feature, but rather what the user aims to achieve, to give agile teams the freedom to identify the best possible way to implement the feature.
Ideally, the team should draft the stories in collaboration with all stakeholders, and be informed by research. While there is no standard format for creating user stories, teams commonly write them as single-line statements. Some teams may also include design deliverables such as personas, storyboards or short movies and include details about the users’ activities, thoughts and emotions.
User stories are commonly used in agile teams to facilitate planning. Each story should be small enough to fit into one sprint. The most common format for framing the story is:
“As a [user], I want [goal or action] so that [outcome or reason].”
While user stories are mostly written from the end users’ point of view, that’s not always true. Teams can write them from the perspective of business stakeholders, partners and even employees and team members.
The Goal / Action
User stories are problem- or goal-oriented and do not include specific solutions or features. Instead, they aim to serve as a springboard for teams to ideate and arrive at the most optimal solution to solve the problem for the user. Here’s a hypothetical user story for a mobile application for diners:
“As a diner, I want to quickly locate good restaurants so that I can get good food fast.”
Notice that this user story doesn’t include specific features. These come later, when team members take the user story and work their way towards solutions or features, which, for this user story, could include:
Be able to save favorite restaurants.
Sort restaurants by location, reviews or delivery times.
View recommendations by friends.
While user stories may seem like simple statements, they can be tough to get right. This is where qualitative research techniques, including observations, contextual interviews, and other ethnographic methods, come into the picture. Designers and researchers can also use probe kits to ask users to document their days and capture their context, experiences and perspectives. The team can then collaboratively select the most relevant insights for the design problem and merge them into cohesive user stories.
The best stories are ones that lead to measurable outcomes. Examples of good outcomes are an X% increase in profile completion rates or an N% drop in payment flow errors. Outcomes that are tied to users or business goals free up the team to think about solutions to problems instead of churning out features for the sake of shipping something.
When the team begins work on a user story, they need not always understand the full scope of work since user stories are (intentionally) vague about what features the team should implement. To ensure that all team members are on the same page about what the user story should accomplish, product managers, designers and researchers often include acceptance criteria—what conditions the feature should fulfill to consider it done.
Learn More about User Stories
For more practical insights on working on agile teams, take the course, Agile Methods in UX Design:
Agile is one of the most misunderstood methodologies in software development. Laura Klein breaks down common “anti-patterns” and how to avoid them, in this hour-long Master Class:
Here is an in-depth explanation of user stories by Max Rehkopf, product marketing manager at Atlassian:
William Hudson observes that teams can gloss over the “users” in these stories and reduce the impact that user stories were meant to have, and makes the case for a new approach, called persona stories. Read more about it here:
Literature on User Stories
Here’s the entire UX literature on User Stories by the Interaction Design Foundation, collated in one place:
Learn more about User Stories
Take a deep dive into User Stories with our course Agile Methods for UX Design .
Agile, in one form or another, has taken over the software development world and is poised to move into almost every other industry. The problem is that a lot of teams and organizations that call themselves “agile” don’t seem to have much in common with each other. This can be extremely confusing to a new team member, especially if you’ve previously worked on an “agile” team that had an entirely different definition of “agility”!
Since the release of the Agile Manifesto in 2001, agile methodologies have become almost unrecognizable in many organizations, even as they have become wildly popular.
To understand the real-world challenges and best practices to work under the constraints of agile teams, we spoke with hundreds of professionals with experience working in agile environments. This research led us to create Agile Methods for UX Design.
In this course, we aim to show you what true agility is and how closely agile methodologies can map to design. You will learn both the theory and the real-world implementation of agile, its different flavors, and how you can work with different versions of agile teams.
You will learn about the key principles of agile, examples of teams that perform all the agile “rituals” but aren’t actually agile, and examples of teams that skip the rituals but actually embody the spirit.
You’ll learn about agile-specific techniques for research and design, such as designing smaller things, practicing continuous discovery, refactoring designs, and iterating.
You will also walk away with practical advice for working better with your team and improving processes at your company so that you can get some of the benefits of real agility.
This course is aimed at people who already know how to design or research (or who want to work with designers and researchers) but who want to learn how to operate better within a specific environment. There are lots of tools designers use within an agile environment that are no different from tools they’d use anywhere else, and we won’t be covering how to use those tools generally, but we will talk about how agile deliverables can differ from those you’d find in a more traditional UX team.
Your course instructor is product management and user experience design expert, Laura Klein. Laura is the author of Build Better Products and UX for Lean Startups and the co-host of the podcast What is Wrong with UX?
With over 20 years of experience in tech, Laura specializes in helping companies innovate responsibly and improve their product development process, and she especially enjoys working with lean startups and agile development teams.
In this course, you will also hear from industry experts Teresa Torres (Product Discovery Coach at Product Talk), Janna Bastow (CEO and Co-founder of ProdPad) and Adam Thomas (product management strategist and consultant).
User Stories: As a [UX Designer] I want to [embrace Agile] so that [I can make my projects user-centered]
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