Rethinking the definition of ‘Storytelling’.

Are we telling or creating?

As a UX Designer (and with the help of another UXD), I was working on presenting to my Design team, takeaways and patterns as a retrospective from a 2.5 hr workshop that we held with external users.

While I was reflecting on all the workshop information we gathered, I had an interesting realization about how the users communicated to us via sketching rather than verbally.

We gave the users a task of sketching ‘How to Draw Toast’ in order to enlighten them on how nodes and connectors form the basis of progression and stages of a process. It wasn’t until well after that exercise when I was organizing my thoughts and notes that I realized that they were not only Storytelling, but they were Story Creating.

Storytelling has been a UXD buzzword for a while now and although, to me, it makes sense in a general way, I never really grasped why a lot of young UX Designers called themselves Storytellers just because they were identifying a user’s journey through touch points with a brand.

Now, since the practice of Storytelling became evident in the workshop we held, I have been considering its definition a lot. I considered that Storytelling may be how we offload information to others and forms a very primitive basis of communication, however, the word seems to assume that the story has finished and that it is not an ongoing experience.

That doesn’t sit well with me. I assume that the experience of any user with a brand is ongoing and free forming. I also assume that the data and concepts that emerge from involving myself in a user’s journey are also ongoing and free forming.

So if that is the case then every story is being created. That sits better with me. Users are Story Creating and so am I as a UXD. I watch the user drawing their process of how to make toast and every node and connector that they draw creates a story for me as the audience. At the end of the story there is also more life. After they make toast, the way the user lives their life may change the way that they draw their process of making toast next time may also change as a consequence. This is based on life being an ongoing experience. If I, as a UXD, stopped them after their ‘complete story’ and then analyzed what they had drawn, I would only have a small part of the ‘complete story’ to analyze. By holding conversations, ideation, enquiring about their next steps and really seeing what happens before and after their process of making toast, I can get more context and a bigger, ever growing journey.

In conclusion, I really believe that ‘Storytelling’ is a limiting word and insinuates a very abrupt end. I would suggest we consider Story Creating as a substitute phrase so that we may continue to think with agility in a more contextual, holistic manner.