Finding the Myth

Every user has a story behind their motivation — you just have to find it

At IBM, there’s a big push for story. And no, I don’t mean extraordinary tales of knights, aliens, or superheroes.

Here, you have to learn to make the ordinary — extraordinary.

From Research to Results

When you’re doing user research, you find out a lot of amazing things. People tell you about the smallest details of their day, and in between the lines, you start to identify their passions.

But sometimes, you get caught in a sinkhole of details. After all, when sifting through all of that, it’s easy to lose sight of the human condition. You get caught up in the user’s comments, like: “I hate…”, “I need…”, and “I really wish I had…”. Then you label those insights.

What you have to keep asking is — why do they hate, need, and wish for these things?

This week, our team fell into that sinkhole.

So, after presenting our insights, we were told that we had lost track of our story. In fact, our audience couldn’t even remember our persona names at the end of the presentation. That seems trivial, but it means that they weren’t feeling the heart of our users’ pain.

We had to regroup.

What is ‘The Myth”?

but first, let’s take a detour…

In the beginning of this article, I mentioned The Myth. The story of the user’s motivation behind all that they do. The best description of this came from a story I heard recently of someone else’s work with young entrepreneurs in India. Let me recap it for you.

This team of design researchers was sent to India to discover more about young Indian entrepreneurs.

What drives them as entrepreneurs, and how can we market to them?

^ that was the question.

What these researchers discovered was that ultimately, many young entrepreneurs in India don’t care about the money. They do, but it’s not the Myth. The Myth is the fact that many of these modern young men are standing in their father’s shadow. Their ultimate goal is to achieve great success, starting from the ground up, as their father did. It’s about pride, and reputation.

Once the team understood this, they knew that they had found the core motivator for these young entrepreneurs. It was intimate, and personal. And yet, so natural, that it was completely ordinary.

Like every young boy who wants to impress his father.

It was something ordinary — and extraordinary. All at once.

So, when I say that our team had to turn around and find the Myth?
This is what I’m talking about.

The Process

Interview Notes, Journey Maps, and so much more.

For our team, this meant reviewing our interview notes. Looking back at our user walkthroughs, and seeking out that human element.

After which, we built out customer journey maps of common scenarios.
A Day in the Life.

And from there, we began to see the Myth emerging.

So much so, that when we presented our newfound stories to our stakeholders, the repeated sentiment was this:

I know students like Rhonda, they’re friends of my children!
My son is like Carl, he calls me late at night with issues like this
I feel Theresa’s (the advisor) frustration, her pain

*our users include college students and advisors

Notice. They remembered their names.

We had finally found the Myth, so much so that even our stakeholders were empathizing with our users. They saw what motivates our users, and identified the pain of the ordinary.


Because ordinary pain becomes extraordinary once you understand the strength of the motivation behind each ordinary action.