Luca Leone on Starting UI Design with Story
Leone writes in Smashing Magazine about the process he uses, specifically how before he even begins to sketch an interface he writes out a conversation between human and computer to get a feel for the interaction.
I realized that imagining the conversation was much easier than drawing on a white canvas. I’m not sure, but I suppose that is true for most people. Conversation is an intrinsic part of human nature. We have evolved as a talking species.
Also, when I imagine a conversation, I draw from my real life experience, which is good for design — less abstraction. If a user’s interaction with a computer resembled a real life experience, then the interface would probably be considered easy to use, wouldn’t it?
It would, or rather, it could. Any UI designer who follows this process is bound to create better interactions.
Starting with a written conversation to help plan UI is simply another form of storytelling. And storytelling is the most powerful way to transfer an experience to someone who hasn’t had that experience. Leone has taken this bull by the horns. However, the utilization of a storytelling process alone does not guarantee success or even prevent possible failure in the overall customer experience. Here is why, and what you can do about it.
Great UI Does Not Equal Great Customer Experience
First, the UI designer runs the risk of having a conversation only with themselves and basing the interaction on their own preferences and ideas of what is easy and pleasurable to use. What about the needs of different types of users? It is likely that the UI designer is representative of one type of user, his or herself. Using well-researched and properly empathetic personas in conjunction with storytelling allows the designer to account for different types of people with different needs, context, and expectations.
Second, storytelling alone doesn’t guarantee the interaction being designed is itself valuable to the overall customer experience or that it even serves the business goals of the company. This is an especially touchy point when providing requirement documentation to UI designers. When stories incorporate the company’s goals in terms of how the customer wants to take the action to achieves those goals, you move from company-centric to customer-centric. Planning with stories that present the customer experience more holistically ensures that each interaction designed serves both the customer and company. Customers are volunteers and as long as they feel that they are achieving their goals they will happily help the company achieve its goals.
Third, and most importantly, Leone’s process doesn’t account for opportunities that might be missed because the UI designer may be unaware of the overall context of the customer experience and why the customer is using this interface in the first place. By telling a story of the entire customer journey to your UI designer, they can look for additional opportunities to move a user towards their goal faster, or find opportunities to up-sell, cross-sell, or encourage other profitable actions the user can take, like social media sharing.
Lastly, it doesn’t seem to account for existing customer data, assuming customer data is available. Just writing out a story (or an interaction) doesn’t mean that story reflects actions that are already happening in the real world. By combining data and storytelling, you eliminate the possibility that your story contains only someone’s best guess (which may be fiction) and instead grounds your stories in reality. In addition, a proper Buyer Legend establishes data points for the story’s hypothesis that you can measure and optimize against.
Add Two Steps Forward and a Look Backwards
There are two other techniques we use in Buyer Legends that would make Leone’s process even more effective.
The first is writing a pre-mortem. In our book, Buyer Legends: The Executive Storyteller’s Guide, we write about the customer completing the sale, but if you are a UI designer, you might want to read what we write below by simply replacing ‘sale’ with ‘completed task’.
…begin making a pre-mortem list, detailing the most likely things that could derail this customer’s successful journey to your desired destination:
A. Begin by having your Team imagine that the customer has completed her (or his) buying journey and either didn’t buy at all, didn’t buy what you sell (in favor of an alternative solution), or bought from a competitor. Now ask yourselves, “What went wrong that led to these outcomes?”
i. Your intuitions about the most likely bad outcomes and most likely causes will be more insightful than you may think.
ii. This process will give your team permission to voice doubts or fears about your brand’s interaction with customers that they might not otherwise feel safe in doing.
B. For every wrong turn, missed opportunity, or bump that could derail the customer’s successful journey, take time to imagine how that process would most likely play out. For instance, how would this detail-oriented customer react if a major detail about your product is left out of their journey or if that detail was hard to find? What would that look and feel like, and at what point would that frustration or anxiety actually derail the sale?
Next we would recommend creating a reverse chronological outline.
Outline the story using reverse chronology; start from the end of the story and work backwards. This reverse chronology process will:
A. Ensure your legend ends in success.
B. Emphasize cause-and-effect more effectively than forward chronology, as it will be harder to “fake” or rely upon momentum. Simply by thinking backwards you will naturally be more thorough in defining the actions and reasoning why your customer has taken each step on their journey.
Buyer Legends Are What to do Before UI Design
When we need a UI Designer, Leone would be among to be the first people we would reach out to. Nevertheless, before we send him off to write out a conversation and design for us a brilliant interaction, we would equip him with a Buyer Legend. In the Buyer Legend, he would read the story (or stories) of the persona(s) and why they are interacting with us in the first place, and why it matters to both the customer and the company. The Buyer Legend would tell about their goals, motivations, needs, preferences, tech savviness, and previous experience. And all of it would be based on real-world customer data. After reading it, Leone would understand how his UI design fits into the bigger picture of the customer experience. He would be empowered to find new and better ways to enhance or improve it, instead of just following rigid product requirements or straightforward use cases. In other words, it would unleash and focus Leone’s creativity in the most profitable context.
If you have a business that needs UI Design, you need Buyer Legends to better communicate with and leverage the skills of your talented designer. If you are a talented designer, you can ask customers for Buyer Legends to bring added value to your clients and garner stronger buy-in for your design work.
The use of storytelling in UI design and in business is powerful, but so is nitroglycerin. You must know how to contain it, control it, and ensure its power does exactly what you need it to do.
Oh, and please do read Leone’s article in total. Wicked good stuff.