How might we tell user stories in an empathic way?

In preparation for my team meeting for our upcoming OpenIDEO presentation in San Francisco, I started sifting through the Stanford d.school bootcamp bootleg for tips on how to spice up our POV creation process. Last week, we were sent out on a mission to revisit the empathy stage and find a super compelling user. Our professor Tracy challenged our team with forming a memorable, tear-jerking POV. With a cuppa coffee in one hand and a highlighter in another, I stumbled upon a page that struck me. It is this method called “Story Share-and-Capture”, where each team member takes turns telling user stories, while the other members jot down surprises, insights, and other interesting points. I asked myself, how might we amp up the empathy factor in this activity? After all, design thinking always starts and returns to empathy.

So, if we can’t bring in our user, Annie, into our meeting room, how might we simulate her presence as if she was physically there telling her stories again? I responded to Stanford d.school’s method with a “yes, and…” and came up with a plan. I rummaged through my graduate student lounge’s box of old supplies and found name tags. Perfect! What if we took turns role-playing Annie?

In the past, while unpacking our findings and telling our user’s stories, we shared them in a third person point of view. We would say, “I remember Annie saying…” or “I think that Annie feels…”. What if for a moment, we took on Annie’s persona and shared her story through the first person voice? I distributed name tags with “Hello, my name is Annie” and we each shared a story from her voice and perspective. This time around, bearing name tags on our chests, we could say, “I feel” and “I think” as Annie. Through role-playing, we found a way to recreate the experience of listening to Annie’s stories and step into her world. As a result, this gave us opportunity to dig deeper and pave the way to creating our game-changing POV.

Key takeaway: When reviewing notes from your empathy interviews with your team in the “define” stage, consider role-playing and rotating storytelling from the user’s point of view, using the first person voice. By doing so, we might just be one step closer in developing empathy with our user and crafting the ultimate, mind-blowing design vision. Also, role-playing can help in growing our empathic mindset as human beings. Feel free to have fun with this and include costumes, wigs, and props, whatever your heart desires!