In UX: Pitch the story, not just the idea

The first post in a three part series on how to use UX storytelling to build influence

diane cronenwett
Intuit Engineering

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Influencing without authority is an essential skill for working in teams. As UX designers, we are constantly balancing product requirements, engineering constraints, and user needs.

In balancing these different objectives, we need to build influence with our cross-functional partners in order to guide them to commit to building the right product for our users. We can do this through storytelling.

The nature of our role provides a lot of opportunities to build influence with cross-functional team members and impact product strategy. Every review, and design check-in is an opportunity to tell a story. In these design reviews, instead of jumping into your wireframes or prototype, set context by crafting a narrative that frames your design around the user. Describe your design thinking and challenges, then move into your design and prototypes to support your thinking and premise. For designers, the user is the central character of our stories.

Framing your design as a story has a lot of advantages. The first is that people remember stories. Stories appeal to everyone and engages a passive listener to an active listener. When your audience is engaged, they are more likely to remember the essence of your story and champion your cause.

Secondly, stories inspire. In the diverse cross-functional audience that we work with, stories around users have the ability to invoke empathy and understanding from a group who doesn’t typically think about users in the same way we do. In a recent project, my team placed a video clip of a user talking about how our product impacts his life at the beginning of a presentation. We wanted everyone on the cross-functional team to understand how our users think about our products in their everyday life. The story we created was framed around our users and how our design solution will help him.

Lastly, storytelling establishes credibility. Organizing and communicating information is a critical skill for designers, and if you have the ability to appeal to a variety of stakeholders, you will establish yourself as someone with confidence and credibility. It isn’t easy to convince multiple people with differing perspectives and goals to buy in to your idea. However, when you start to use storytelling techniques, you’ll find that people will be able to relate to the information better. When you present your ideas well, people look forward to hearing what you have to say, and are more willing to buy in to your idea. This is influence.

Here are a few things to consider when thinking about constructing your story.

1. Understand your audience and tailor your message.

When giving your presentations, each cross-functional team member will have unique concerns around your design.

Your product manager might be thinking about how your design fits into the overall product strategy, your engineer might be thinking about the technical complexity, while the marketing person might be thinking how they want to message this feature in their next campaign.

Take into consideration all of the things that everyone might be thinking and try to either verbally address their concerns, or build it into the presentation. Do a quick analysis of what the audience will want to hear, and this will help you build a story that will appeal to them.

2. Frame the design problem and context.

Set the context of the design early to get everyone on the same page of where you want them to focus their attention. Setting context is particularly important for designers, so your audience doesn’t get lost in the details of your design.

If you don’t give your audience the context of what you were solving for, everyone in the room will have a slightly different understanding of what you did and will start to fixate on other details like copy, or color, or other things that might not be the core problem you are trying to solve.

This might be the feedback that you are looking for, but you want to control the flow of the feedback, so its better aligned with the problems you are solving. Framing your story around the user is a good way to get everyone focused on the overall design problem.

3. Organize your content.

Framing your presentation as a story relies heavily on how you organize your content. The flow of the story is important. Consider the main ideas and takeaways you want the audience to know as you start constructing your narrative.

In the next article, I’ll get into more detail on how you may want to arrange your content in How to use UX storytelling to build influence: Organizing your content.

Do you have any successful stories of how you’ve used storytelling to build influence? Leave your comments here.

This post was originally shared on LinkedIn

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diane cronenwett
Intuit Engineering

#UX Designer 🖥📱, Linkedin Learning [in]structor 🤓, Californian ❤️. Prev @LinkedIn @PayPal, my tweets.