The power of stories: creating empathy and connection
The Power of Story
Designing with empathy and
WQusability and Center for Civic Design
User research, usability, accessibility
Former theatre designer
Storytelling as a way to understand users,
culture, and context in UX design
Passionate about civic design
New book on accessible UX
How about you?
Personas & stories communicate patterns
Store and transmit knowledge
Explore new ideas
They help us…
Share information in
Understand emotion and
Communicate context (and emotion)
Ten minutes is not enough. That's Tanner’s opinion about
the time limits on using the computer at school.
Last Friday, he started working on a geography assignment
and look up some information about the animals in Africa.
He had just gotten started when his turn on the computer
was up. He’d like to work on it over the weekend, but can’t
access the school library. He prints out a few things, and
figures he will retype what he’s done when he gets home.
What a bore.
Narrative weaves the user journey
into the structure of a site.
Fill in details and scenarios
Rachel, Enthusiastic dreamer
28, finished one year at uni, works in an office
Lives in North London with a partner
Hasn’t settled down to a plan for her life
Interested in Social Sciences
FIRST CONTACT WITH THE OU: OU ON TV
Insomnia led Rachel to the OU, watching programs on the
telly. She starts to enjoy the programmes and thinks about
doing something to improve her career. It takes her a long
time to act on this idea, but she visits an Open Day.
She spends ages thinking about it, sometimes browsing the
web site, but also reading the brochures she has taken from
the Open Day.
On her third trip to an Open Day, she finally registers for an
Openings course that’s about to begin.
Stories can explore unexpected data
Gina gave us the first clue. She was a nurse
manager for the county health system. “I’m on the
move all day and I have a huge case load. Patients
are always throwing new questions at me. Yesterday,
I really struggled to sort out a problem one patient
was having with side effects.
I speak a little Spanish, but just couldn’t remember
the correct medical term to explain a new adjuvant
the doctor wanted to try. It was so frustrating.”
She pointed at the sketch. “I don’t have a phone
that will do all that...yet, but... if it’s really that ...
How will you tell the story?
Mary and Leonard Trujillo – The Mudhead Gallery
Stories are efficient
Tanner was deep into a Skatepunkz game—all
the way up to level 12—when he got a buddy
message from his friend, Steve, with a
question about his homework.
He looked up with a start. Almost bedtime
and his homework was still not done. Mom or
Dad would be in any minute.
Each voice is a perspective
Third Person Second Person First Person
Story is told about
someone, looking at them
from the outside
Story is a conversation
between the storyteller and
Story is told from the point
of view of the main
A UX person telling stories
about how several different
people responded to a
Persona stories, especially if
there is more than one
Feedback to a participant or
“Interviewing a persona”
Talking directly to users of a
A UX person telling the
story of their own reactions.
Retelling a story from the
point of view of the original
Maintains a distance
between “us” and
Creates a direct
connection and invites
the other person to
Invites the audience to
look at the story
through the eyes of
3rd person allows you to explain and interpret
Whose words and thoughts are these?
Are these things that Mary would say
or are they our interpretation of all the
data and stories that went into the
How can we show when we are using
her own words?
Does this story invoke research
authority- a “realist tale”?
Mary works as a nurse in a hectic
women’s health center for a low-
Her questions about cancer mostly
come from her patients, or from
wanting to be sure that she
catches any early signs.
She has learned conversational
Spanish, so she can talk to her
patients for whom this is a first
When she looks things up on the
Web, she tends to go back to
John van Mannen – Tales from the Field
2nd person creates conversation
How can you show the conversation?
Interviews maintain a separation
Conversations can also happen
between two personas
Persona by Caroline Jarrett for the Open University
1st person invites identity
You represent the persona and tell
the story from their point of view.
Lets you “get into the head” of the
story (an “impressionist tale”)
First person can tell your story of
your experience with the person (a
Stories are not a detailed task analysis
Focus on the story
Establish the scene with imagery
What’s the time-frame?
What’s the emotional context
Think about the persona’s perspective
How do they see the events or interaction?
What words do they use? Style of language?
What are the boundaries of the story from their point of view?
(Hint: it might not be your product!)
Don’t use the story to describe the user
Personas and their stories give us...
A richer understanding of context
Innovation from real needs
More persuasive ideas
People in the center of the process
Stories create empathy
Stories change how we think
Our experience of the
world is shaped by our
interpretations of it,
the stories we tell
ourselves.... so the
key to personal
transformation is story
- Timothy Wilson, Redirect
Screen from Tripit
Personas (and stories) travel thru the UX journey
Gather information - both
qualitative and quantitative
Reflect the breadth and
depth of the audience
Explore current problems
and new design ideas
Stories can be a
vehicle for evaluation,
or a check on usability
A story is successful when it gets repeated
Based on real data
The stories you want told
Generate insights and empathy
& that lead to action!
Storytelling for User Experience
with Kevin Brooks
with Daniel Szuc
A Web for Everyone
with Sarah Horton
Center for Civic Design