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“Great designers are great storytellers,” proclaimed my creative director. “No one will really get your screens and workflows unless you attach it to a compelling story,” she added. Over the years, I found this to be very true. The more I time I spent crafting the story around how the product helps the customer, the easier it was for me to design and pitch my ideas. Here is a framework that has helped me improve my UX storytelling.

1. Structure your UX storytelling

A lot of the framework comes from the hero’s journey. Joseph Campbell first introduced this concept in “The Hero with a Thousand Faces” (link). The basic narrative is as follows:

  • The Hero is compelled to leave a comfy home
  • S/he encounters a strange new world with unspeakable challenges
  • The time comes to dig deep and overcome those challenges
  • The Hero returns forever changed

I first discovered this template when I was studying Anthropology and East Asian culture in college. Local legends often aligned to this structure, and they formed the basis of cultural beliefs and ideals. When I moved into UX design and started working more closely with stakeholders and clients on the business side, I realized that the industry heavily borrows from this approach as well. The reason was simple. We may be siloed in our disciplines as designers, developers, product owners, or business strategist. The one thing that could binds us was a well crafted story around the hero and the journey.

2. Connect your audience to the hero

Start by defining the hero. Who is this person and what similarities link us together? The closer you can position the hero to your audience without blankly stating that the audience is the hero, the easier it will be to hook them into the journey. Once they realize that the hero is a person they can imagine and identify, they will pay attention to the story.

The solution should be simple to explain in order to keep the audience engaged

The story should follow the narrative outlined above. Similar to the hero, the story should be familiar and believable for the audience. While we might not be our hero or have personally experienced the same problems, we can see ourselves in the same situation and empathize with the pain points.

3. Define a simple solution

This is where you briefly break from the hero’s journey. You insert how your designs rescue the hero from a devastating experience. The solution should be simple to explain in order to keep the audience engaged. This is true test if you have done your due diligence. Have you thought out the solution and removed as much unnecessary clutter as possible? I have been in situations when the answer was a resounding, ’no.’ In those cases, I effectively lost the audience. Either they questioned the logic of my decisions or stopped listening. Refine your designs and the story at the same time. The audience sees them as linked, and they will know if there is a piece out of sync.

Learning to weave a compelling story has helped connect my team, stakeholders and clients to our work and the people we are helping. The most memorable stories from my experience have come from ruthlessly refining the narrative. Guide the audience where they can clearly see the hero, the challenges, and how your work forges a path forward.

Interested in learning more about the UX process, check out this post on teaching empathy and giving feedback.

Matt Eng

Matt Eng

DesignOps Manager. Based in Austin,TX. Worked with clients such as Alcatel-Lucent, Ogilvy, RBC, Deloitte, Whirlpool, Polycom, Symantec, and Pebble. Matt teaches, mentors, and speaks about design, creativity, and fostering stronger connections within teams.