(last updated on April 29, 2014)
In the last thread, Tim Beadle wrote:
I may be missing something (and I am in no way an expert!), but isn’t story-based design the same as persona-based design?
I realize there’s a namespace collision here, and I’m glad Tim bring it up. There’s a distinction I’m trying to make between the “usability” notion of story-based design and what I’m trying to define. The distinction lies with how I think of the application of story to design.
One thing that bugs me slightly about “usability” (and I admittedly have not worked directly with many experts or professional firms) is that the approach is rather depersonalized and dry. For all the talk of “story” and “personas”, reaching as far back as the early 90s…there just hasn’t been much passion in them. If I were to describe the stereotypical “usability expert”, I think of an insightful, quiet person with the uncanny ability to make perpective-shaking adjustments in a product or process by asking a simple question: “how do people really interact?” And then they would produce a wonderfully-written document that states the newfound principles of design with such clarity that it takes my breath away. My eyes would widen in appreciation of the accompanying diagrams, visually designed with such power that I can’t help but absorb the concepts I had just read about. I immediately put it up on my wall, circling one particularly-glorious info-blob and writing YES!!! next to it in bold red Sharpie.
Then I go have lunch, and forget about it.
The usability expert wonders what the hell happened, but as a consultant he’s already on to the next gig, hoping that maybe his ground-breaking insights will actually take root in more fertile soil. The problem is that for all the work that went into clarifying those important, business-altering insights, the expert has failed to engage us. In the worst case scenario, the usability expert becomes a prophet, crying out warnings of the Coming Infocalypse that is already upon us, Web 2.0 methodologies already dangerously swaying out of control. But no one cares, because the prophet is still making the mistake of addressing people in the abstract, as personas. They’re not engaging me or my reality as an individual. They’re talking about someone like me, but not me. There is no feeling of personal relationship, and I think that’s pretty important.
Let’s look at this another way: you’ve written some kick-ass user stories for your software product! High five, guys! With these documents, the development process finally has real focus and guidance. In fact, these user stories are SO GOOD that you’re submitting them as-is to a number of literary short story competitions!
Oh wait…they’re not that good, at least not in that way. If I were to take off my usability goggles, in what way are these personas useful outside the context of software development?
Stories go far beyond software development and is at the crux of several trends I’ve been watching: Kathy Sierra’s Creating Passionate Users, Joel Spolsky’s Best of Software Writing, Donald Norman’s Emotional Design, the Experience Design movement, even online comics, the Clue Train and leadership… all of these center around story, emotion, heroism, and visualization. Story is a lot more than just personas and models. Stories are what motivate and connect people with action, set examples to follow, and are most importantly personally relevant.
That is what I am interested in. I think it’s a given that passionate users are empowered users. What I want to figure out is how to be a passionate creator, and how to leverage my newly rediscovered passions for writing, teaching, and community building in a way that is approachable by people who intuitively understand this, but can’t quite put it yet into words. “Story Based Design” isn’t the phrase…it’s something else.
More in this series:
- Storytelling By Design Master Page