Role of storytelling in fostering user experience

Storytelling has long been a standard tool in guiding UX design thinking.

While virtually every major software company has its own examples of story-driven UX, the most famous probably comes from Airbnb, where founder Brian Chesky used Disney’s Snow White to help figure out how to explain his entire product journey.

There’s no shortage of visual storytelling techniques & paradigms to include in the agile UX process – most, however, I find to be quite shallow. 

A better approach than throwing “fiction 101” principles at a UX planning board is to consider one of the most fundamental modalities in storytelling: the Hero’s Journey.

Coined initially by an anthropologist in the 1800s, the Hero’s Journey describes a vague series of steps which typically define a great story. Or rather, the experience of a hero in a great story. 

In cliff notes, the protagonist of a good story typically goes through something like this:

  1. A Call to Adventure: Free the princess!
  2. Crossing the Threshold: The journey begins
  3. The Trial: Hero faces an unconquerable obstacle in their current state
  4. The Transformation: Hero has a moment of self-realization or transformation to conquer said obstacle
  5. Atonement: The hero returns to his old world, a changed person

This is a bit of an abridgement, but this same pattern repeats itself in the biographies of all legendary fictional protagonists – typically sending the hero through several cycles of the hero’s journey.

Interestingly, the Hero’s Journey maps very conveniently as a design thinking tool with a product’s user journey. After all, the goal of UX designer is to take a user through the journey in the best way possible – what better way to learn how to do this from ancient literature?

A Call to Adventure

The start of the journey – this typically happens outside of your product via some marketing channel. 

This is the least involved part for a UX architect, but still requires some thought: how do you inspire that call to adventure? 

What would have happened to Cinderella if she didn’t bother to hop in the carriage at all?

The greatest value a UX person adds to this step of the hero’s journey is in persona building – the more you understand your customer, the more you recognize what motivates him/her. That background isn’t just helpful for the entire UX journey, it inspires context in the rest of the product organization as well – starting with helping your outbound teams.

Crossing the Threshold

Once a visitor first engages with your product (which, in most cases, means visiting your website for the first time), the next step is actively choosing to explore it as a solution to their problem. This is where UX kicks in – it’s the designer’s job to be Gandalf, kicking Samwise through the door. 

(Or, some less geeky example)

When a visitor comes to your website, you have a good 10-20 seconds to convince them two things:

  1. Their problem is worth solving
  2. You’re a potential solution to that problem

Poor messaging, high friction & weak brand presence will all send the hero scuppering back to the safety of step 1.

The Trial

You’ve convinced the user their adventure is worth embarking upon, so now the question is: what’s stopped them so far?

The next step once a user has decided their problem is worth solving is to explore your product as a solution. Before you can convince your users of that, you need to understand what their current unconquerable obstacle is?

In any UX dilemma, this pattern applies – your user has an obstacle they can’t solve, and it’s up to you to convince them you can give them the tools to solve it.

The Transformation

In less fancy terminology, this step of the journey is usually referred to as “onboarding”. At this point, the user is eagerly exploring your product as a means to solving their big obstacle, and it’s up to you to guide them through it.

This step, ultimately, is where strong User Experience is the most important. Your role as a designer is to play Mickey Goldmill for any warm leads entering your funnel and guide them through to getting the skills to beat the obstacle – a poor onboarding experience is entirely a UX problem.

In the hero’s journey, the hero abandons this step if the steps required to beat the obstacles are too difficult to make it worth it. Sound familiar? Keep your onboarding smart, tight & efficient. 

Atonement

Congratulations: you have an active user. Your hero has gone through the journey and beaten their first obstacle on the path to conquering their adventure.

Here’s the final kicker: the Hero’s Journey is a cycle. Every experience you build your product on will require every single one of your users to go on a journey to reach the end state – whatever you define that end state as (typically an “active user”).

Breaking every experience down into the Hero’s Journey offers a convenient way to see your user experience holistically. It often helps in realising what the current hitches in your user journey are.  
For more help with your user’s hero journey into your product and becoming a success story, talk to Galaxy Weblinks  UX experts.