Published in


Cheryl Platz

Apr 5, 2017

10 min read

Catching CROW: Storytelling for UX Design

An improv-inspired framework for better customer understanding and better product design

Building Blocks of Story

  • Perhaps one of the characters chooses to display some low-status nervous behaviors physically. Things become a little more interesting thanks to this characterization choice: what’s going on here?
  • We may discover the relationship between these two characters when they refer to each other by name (Eddie, the nervous boy, and Sarah): perhaps these two people aren’t strangers but friends. Why, then, is one of them so nervous?
  • By a passing comment about “4th period class”, and later interaction with an invisible locker, we discover the where of the scene: it takes place in a school hallway.
  • And at some point, the audience discovers Eddie’s objective: to ask Sarah to a school dance for the first time. The conversation about chocolates is their way of building up to the subject.
CROW: Not just a talkative bird or a Game of Thrones plot device. Remember Character, Relationship, Objective and Where to help your storytelling and design skills take flight.

Heightened need for context

Applying CROW to UX


  • Characterization: Physical traits, mannerisms, and habits. These tend not to change over time.
  • Attitude: Emotions and options regarding other stimuli — other people, objects, or situations.
  • Choices: The actions we take. But when actions are taken without a clear “Why” based on attitude, characterization, or other event, we see that choice as ‘out of character’.
  • Do our customers have any physical mannerisms or limitations that would change how they use our experience? This question is tied to accessibility.
  • Does this customer persona have well-defined attitudes towards any part of our experience, or the situation our experience compliments? What is their emotional state when approaching our product?
Remember to consider the many characterizations that your customers exhibit. What are their attitudes? Common habits and preferences? How do they express their individuality, and is your product a part of that expression?


  • Human to device relationship: How long has your customer owned the device they’re using? Is it shared? Do they own it? Is it expensive and treasured, or cheap and disposable? Does the customer anthropomorphize the device in any way? Did they name it?
  • Human to business relationship: Does your customer deal with you directly, or through a third party? Did they get to choose to work with you, or are they locked in due to monopoly or limited choice? What are their expectations of you in this situation?
  • Human to human relationship: In some cases, your product may be used by multiple people, perhaps at the same time — what is their relationship to each other? Do they trust each other?
The human-to-device relationship between a person and their phone is complex, and not without emotion. Have they anthropomorphized it? Named it? How do they feel about their device when they open your app?


We can’t lose sight of our customers’ objectives. They’re not trying to turn a dial or browse a website — they’re trying to make music or find a store location. When we lose sight of objective, our “solutions” become self-serving.


  • Is it a public or private space?
  • Is it usually noisy or quiet?
  • Where is the device located? Is it fixed or mobile? Does it need to be near a charger?
  • Is a conversation, or a device that makes sound, socially acceptable?
  • What is your customer holding? Are they multitasking?
  • Where is your customer looking? Do they see the device at all times?
Environment and context matter in product design. Are you designing a mobile app? Will your customers have reliable internet where they’re going? In automotive design, parking lots and garages were a real problem. Define your environments clearly to see future problems.

Story as shared understanding