Three practical tips from my work experience
As UX designers, our job is to solve problems faced by businesses and humans. An equally important part of our job is to spot and understand these problems. Working and interacting with other, especially newer designers, I have noticed that there is an urgency to jump into solution-mode without actually spending time peeling the layers of the problem. To top it off, we are tirelessly chasing deadlines and convincing stakeholders of the value of design. It is an intimidating situation to be in as a new designer. So, we feel the need to be moving fast, designing for ideal uses cases that purely benefit the business. The consequences of this are pretty risky, as we all know.
Storytelling can save the day. It helps you dig deep, cultivate empathy for users, craft better user testing sessions and finally, create more buy-in from stakeholders at all levels. Let’s get into it.
Gaining empathy for users during user interviews
Planning and conducting user interviews can involve a lot of resources and investment. So, as researchers, we tend to go over-prepared to interview sessions with a list of questions, not leaving enough room for free-flowing conversation. By relying on storytelling, you can swap out these trite conversations with users for meaningful interactions, wherein you not only decipher critical information needed but also get a glimpse into a user’s mind and the context of their everyday existence. You can do this by awakening the storyteller hidden within your interview participants.
Let me give you an example from a recent project. I was working on a mobile app to help patients suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder better manage their moments of emotional distress. To begin our project on the right foot, we conducted in-depth user research to understand how our app would fit within a patient’s existing treatment ecosystem. We also wanted to understand what our users’ primary motivations are for seeking treatment so that we can design a solution to help them get closer to their goals in a measurable way.
So, instead of framing questions like: “Why is it important for you to overcome your PTSD? In other words, what are your goals and motivations?”
We asked our research participants: “Can you describe a time when you felt calm and in control of your emotions, how did that feel? What were you able to do/accomplish in that state of mind?”
Getting relevant usability testing results
When it comes time to test your design solutions, here is how storytelling can help. Instead of presenting tasks for the user to complete, give them a scenario and role-play with them.
Take a look at these two options:
- Researcher to the user: Your task is to order a blue colour shirt and complete your purchase through this app
- Researcher to the user: Imagine you are on your regular bus commute to get to work. Today, unlike other days, you found a comfortable spot to sit. You finally want to buy that blue shirt for your friend’s birthday. You open the app and order the shirt. Your goal is to complete your purchase before the bus reaches your stop. The thought of crossing one item off your to-do list motivates you.
Which option do you think is likely to unlock interesting insights on the usability of the said e-commerce app? Unlike Option1, Option 2 provides a thoughtful context and framework for the user’s response.
All digital experiences are consumed in a given context. It is important to understand what is working and what needs to change for your users within the context of use.
To create engaging testing scenarios, you can draw hints from your interview responses and overall research. Do a debrief with your user after each testing session to unpack their response a bit more.
Communicating user research to stakeholders
Communicating insights and results from user research to other project stakeholders can be a challenging task, especially when there no involvement or limited buy-in for user research. In this instance, storytelling can be an effective strategy to persuade and bring all the stakeholders onboard. Stories make abstract users come to life, giving stakeholders a way to relate to them better. They make long, boring research documents more engaging, memorable and relatable.
When I prepare a research presentation for stakeholders, internal and external, I lead with a story. During my client presentation for Hummingbird Network’s new website design, a platform that crowdsources wildfire detection from digital volunteers, I started with a story about our user persona Alex.
“Meet Alex”, I said, giving my audience information about Alex’s personality, her friends, her favourite places hang out, her goals.
I also described her deep-rooted fears and frustrations about the rampant wildfires near her childhood home located in interior British Columbia, Canada, instantly aligning all the stakeholders. Later on, I wove in details about research insights that led to the birth of Alex along with the ‘why’ and ‘how’ behind it. The feedback I got for this approach was great. Alex became a trusted friend that we all referred to throughout the design process. As a result, we were able to design a more human-centric solution for the Hummingbird Network website and web app.