Trends for 2014 – Storytelling in UX design

18 December, 2013     / /

After reviewing submissions for IA Summit 2014 it occurred to me that this might be a good opportunity to think about trends for the coming year. This is the final trend, and probably not so much a trend as the way I like to think about the world generally, but it helps out at work too. I’ve already written about search and being ambitious, everyone and everything. Today is about storytelling in UX design.

Telling stories

If there is one thing that an information architect needs to be able to do it’s take a complicated thing and make it seem simpler. I don’t know a better way of doing this than telling a story. Which is ironic, because that’s a pretty complicated idea and this post doesn’t really contain a story.

Stories make sense – it’s a necessary condition. Even Edward Lear knew that. No matter what rules you set for it, a story must stick to the rules. And the rules should usually be discoverable through consumption. Stories are really just a series of claims. They progress as the storyteller connects one thing to another, the story unfolds. And every time you tell a story, your audience will be able to connect one claim to the next. There’s a reliability to stories – they’re not predictable, but they are reliable.

It’s the reliability of stories that make them such a powerful tool to develop and share ideas. Once someone has heard a story, the ‘claims’ that form the story are connected in their imagination and memory. They can re-explore this map of connections, rebuilding the story and developing it for themselves. Stories encourage recall, re-examination and re-connection.

And the connections inherent in stories can also power a design process. I’ve written about trajectories, which are really just a storytelling format. In trajectories we have the concept of seams – these are points of connection where the connectivity in the story or experience is in jeopardy. Telling the story of an experience can help you sniff out these seams and design stronger, more plausible connections.

I remember earlier in this year when I was designing multiple-session experiences. I’d tell the stories of those experiences, and in telling the story I knew the moments I was inclined to rush because I was aware of a gaping plot flaw. Stories make designers better, because in telling the story of your design you’re better able to hold yourself to account (and others are too).

I’ll continue to use stories to describe and develop concepts. I’m interested in using storytelling in design sprints and service design, and using trajectories to test the plausibility of the stories we tell. Keep checking the blog, or subscribe to posts to find out how I do this in 2014.

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