360′ User Stories for Insight
Producing Compelling User Stories to Articulate and Inform Design
Jon Parker – February 1017
We tell, read and listen to stories all the time. Some of the best stories are funny ones told by highly skilled comedians who can draw the audience into a well told short story! The jokes we re-tell are the ones we remember because the brain processes stories differently to straight facts.
Designers and developers need some support if they are to build effective digital services. The best support comes in the form of validated user stories and insight from the end users: claimants or patients for example provided by skilled user researchers and product managers.
User stories are the bedrock of effective design – when we make some assumptions (hypothesised user needs) based on perceived wisdom and then validate them with users, capturing insight with as little bias as humanly possible, we start to create a collective vision.
When used to full effect user stories create a shared understanding of challenges and friction in the overall experience. Understanding just how hard we make users work to achieve their needs is paramount to improving the overall user experience.
What’s The Best Way to Write a User Story?
Top Tip: Be a User for a Day – then write a user story.
Empathy in service design and build is really important. Some of the best (and most successful) digital user experiences are built with empathy.
- Amazon show huge empathy for anyone (like me) who hates shopping, almost as much as he hates slow delivery.
- AirBnB, for anyone who wants to experience a new destination as if they were a local.
- eBay for anyone who wants to de-clutter and make money from unused items.
- Even HMRC use empathy and psychology to great effect. Submit a tax return late at your peril! The guilt will eat away at you for ages.
So, write the user story as a user, in a group and use the language of a user. Walk in their shoes and try to do what they are trying to achieve and you’ll see the world from a different perspective.
What Should be Included in a Well-Crafted User Story?
Ideally user stories should include just enough information for the Product Owner to decide how important the story is and to emphasise its importance to the design and development team.
As a rule of thumb, they should include:
- the person using the service (patient, claimant, citizen)
- what the user needs the service for (what are they trying to do?)
- why the user needs it (what’s their desired outcome?)
There is no right or wrong format for user stories but they’re usually written out on post-its and stuck on a wall, but they can be drawn, mind mapped, even photographed or recorded on video.
Some of the best user stories and our preferred method a brain stormed mind map on a large white board or brown paper and post its. It’s chance for the more creative to shine. Be bold and ask lots of what if questions and don’t be too constrained by accepted organisational protocol.
- Who is the user?
- What are they trying to do?
- Why are they doing it?
- What if we could offer the user the opportunity to…?
- When and where helps to provide some context as well.
Top Tip: steer clear of talking about solutions too soon and don’t think of features.
Important: Validate User Stories with Qualitative Research to Create Compelling User Stories
Definition: A validated user story is a hypothesis tested and researched with a range of users with a qualitative test (s).
A validated user story helps to:
- Keep the user (validated story) at the centre of any solution conversation.
- Frame the discussion and introduce evidence of what’s important to the user. Validated user stories enable the Product Owner to address controversial topics with stakeholders supported by evidence.
- Set out the approach for user persuasion and clear call to action.
- Persuade stakeholders with validated user stories
- Evaluate ideas & designs whilst always checking the proposed solutions align with user needs.
Top Tip: A video of a validated user story showing a user talking about and demonstrating some of their frustrations is extremely valuable.