Storytelling and UX with Elisabeth Bentley

Last week, screenwriter and producer Elisabeth Bentley gave a talk about the importance of powerful storytelling in user experience. Bentley had five takeaways.

1. The Tension Between the Analytic and the Intuitive

When trying to create a successful product, making decisions based on data vs. intuition can become frustrating. To merge the two worlds of thought, use storytelling. Designers will be delighting users but still using scientific data to reinforce decisions.

“Story is the matrix that brings those two together and creates delight,” Bentley said.

2. Traditional Uses of Storytelling in UX Practice

Personas and scenarios are the most commonly used UX storytelling tools, however they are best used in when designed in teams.

“Design is at its best when it’s collaborative,” Bentley said. “If the design director is great, the department heads will also be great.”

Bentley also emphasizes the importance of the middle of a design story. Many designers only focus on the initial problem and the end result. Using methods such as storyboarding or comic strips may help develop the entire user journey.

3. What is a story?

While at an art museum looking at an abstract painting, many people will be gathered around the information card, looking for an explanation of the work. Our brains are trying to create meaningful stories all the time.

“It’s what our brains are meant to do.” Bentley said. “Story is the most elemental model we have.”

Examples of story telling can be found in everywhere in daily life such as the scientific method (hypothesis, test, conclusion), philosophy, magic shows, etc.

4. Collecting, Connecting and Recalling: Our Brains on Story

As seen multiple times in tech history such as during the Final Cut 10 update or the endings to Mass Effect 3, users can become very passionate and outspoken about their digital software. Designers are not “modifying a process, but interrupting a relationship,” according to Bentley.

Neurology helps designers understand how this process works. Users remember emotionally competent stimuli such as a child breaking their arm, but they don’t remember emotionally neutral stimuli such as going to the grocery store. Designers need to remember users memory filing systems are emotion-based.

5. Designing for happily ever after.

To harness the power of emotion-based memories, designers need to create a delightful experience. Bentley uses a technique from dramatic writing. At each stage of the user journey, she asks these questions:

How do they FEEL? What do they HOPE for? What do they FEAR? What do they DO?

Bentley encourages designers to be “emotionally rigorous.”

“Messy bits are as real and important as the pragmatic part of the user,” Bentley said.

Bentley ends the talk with one last piece of advice: “Lets use stories and all it offers to sculpt experience to craft future, happy memories into imagined technologies that make all of us more fully human.”

See the full recorded talk here.

Originally published at

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