Storytelling as a UX Leadership Superpower
Dani Nordin presented “Storytelling as a UX Leadership Superpower” at Leadership By Design: Home Edition. Enjoy!
The following transcript may contain typographical errors. Please forgive any mistakes!
Hey everybody. How are you ready to Saint stories. But a story. So I am the Director of user experience it mostly focused on combat ordering or teaching a boss, I also teach for time and the inertia in there are a lot of people who actually Miro to work for their public… There, go on Google and on side.
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So yeah, so let me see time again. So I am the director of user experience at Athena Health, where I focus on complex ordering workflows and clinical coordination. I’m also a part-time lecture at Northeastern University, and many people actually know me from the Mark I published or Riley several years ago. What people may not know is that I’ve been doing design since about 1995, but I’ve been writing since 1991, and the first thing I actually published was a short poem in my high school’s literary journal that went as I reached for Star and Paul, the sky breaks and I fall into the test, I was 16, what can you do?
And what was interesting to me about this was not the reaction for my classmates, this was actually published anonymously, it was that the school’s guidance counselor who was on the board of literary journal and had new… Had known that this home was mine, actually reached out to me afterwards to see if I was okay. I was 16, who’s okay at 16.So this combined with the fact that I’d been doing theater for a couple of years at this point, really sort of crystallized to me the ways in which stories matter, the stories are an intimate and very human way in which we build relationships and move things for… And there’s designers, we know this, we know that in order to get people to invest in meaningful work and to do the right things for our users, craft isn’t enough, we need to be able to need together a narrative that explains and convinces people and persuade them to understand what we’re trying to do and why we’re trying to do it. So how do we do this?
How do we tell… Sorry, as a drum and says 10% of our work is the actual ideas and the things we make, the other 90% is getting people to actually agree with you, so how do we do this, how do we actually tell the story of what we wanna do typically, I’ve seen us focus our storytelling on design scenarios, right.
An example in my work is a 20-year-old woman goes to see her because she has recurring pelvic pain, Dr notice is in her chart that she’s tried a bunch of things and it hasn’t worked, so she decides to refer the patient for a consultation. So this is simple, straightforward, I know exactly how to design for this, how to dedicate a team to it, but stories are actually all around us, everything we do contains a story, and we need to be cognizant of that as we move forward. work in the world.
So stories live in the business cases that we build for our work, the metrics we choose to measure our success, they live in the data we use to guide our decision making, and most importantly, they must live in the way that we talk about our work with our colleagues, so how do we do this? How do we actually tell the story of what we’re trying to do… That’s what I’m here to talk about today.
What I learned over time is that stories in the US tend to come in three flavors, the first, and most obvious probably is the Explain story… Right, you’re describing what is in order to set the stage for a deeper conversation, these are the usability issues, research findings, all of these things that really sort of lay out the current state.
Next, we get into the persuaded story. Now, these are the stories that we love to talk about in x, this is where we’ve spent the time setting the stage, doing, explain, and then we start moving into contrasting now with a new and desired state so we can get buy-in and inspire action. These are the vision decks, the storyboards, I would argue, even the case studies we put on our portfolios are in some sense a persuade story, but then there’s a third flavor of story and on… I don’t think gets enough attention. And that is the alliance story, you take the time to explain, you’ve gotten people on board through persuade, and now what you have to do is tell the story of what you and the team are actually going to deliver. And those are the stories I like to focus my energy on today, and I think that it’s really important that we think of these align moments, these experience Rees, design scenarios, all of these different things as fundamentally telling a story about the work we’re going to do.
And the elements, the tone and the altitude with which you build that story are defined by the stories purpose and are critical to its success.
So let’s dig into that a little bit.Story elements are pretty easy to recognize, you’ve got a character who’s in a situation, a conflict arises, there are some resolution to that conflict, and then the characters impacted somehow by this resolution in a… And it’s pretty easy to see that play out in the scenario that we see right here, so we’ve got the character in the situation, you got the patient in the OB, you’ve got the conflict that arises is when a bunch of different things… She’s tried, hasn’t worked. And then you ever rely resolution, which is referring her to a specialist, but the stories we design for may actually contain multiple stages, characters and situations, so part one is at the OBs office, part two is at the specialist office, and that creates its own layering. We also might move elements around based on the nature of the story, in the case of a research insight, we’re actually leading with the conflict and the impact, so we can get people invested right away, and then moving down to the situation and talking about the Resolution, which in this case is the work around and the impact of that resolution.
Now we start talking about tone, right, so the tone may also vary based on content on to context and explain, you really wanna be pragmatic, matter of fact, but you also wanna be sympathetic ’cause you’re bringing in some of that user pain as we move into persuade. We wanna keep that sympathy, but we also wanna bring a sense of urgency and a sense of vision, and we also might even wanna bring in a little bit of pride, we’re so happy as a team that we made this customer so happy with the thing that we just launched, as we go back to a line, we’re actually moving up and bringing back that pragmatism, we’re opening a bit, we’re saying these are the things, this is the pain we’re trying to solve, this is what we’re gonna do to sell it, and we’re bringing in some optimism, when we talk about the impact we’re going to have, right, it’s a much more practical way of telling that optimistic story than when you’re in persuaded mode, and that’s really important to think about when we’re talking about this work with altitude. You see something very similar.
When you’re talking about an explain story, you really can be anywhere from 500 to 10000 feet, but what I found is that if you go to 5000 feet, your deep into the weeds, you’re talking about a problem with a button, you’re talking about a minor element of the architecture and what a mistake that a lot of people make is staying at that very, very granular level when they’re telling the story of what they’ve aligned on, If you shit up to 50 to 10000 feet, you often have much better conversations when you’re at the planning stage, and on those stage where you’re aligning, and it’s really critical to think about that when you gonna just persuade… You’re moving up a level. Again, you’re going from 5000 to 30000 feet, you might be looking at the broad list of opportunities over a complete… A really complex problem space, you might be talking about a specific feature that you wanna design, and the reason why you want to do that work, in a line, you go back down to 10000 feet, you are identifying the opportunities you wanna do at 5000 feet, you’re defining the India features, and then at five feet, you’re starting to dig into what are the specifics that are gonna take to build it, so you can see that we had a line story is much more like an explain story than a persuaded story, and I think that’s important to recognize… So let’s see how this sort of breaks down, here’s a problem statement from a feature that we released a couple of months ago is a relatively small feature, we’re saying about 5000 feet, but I would argue this might even be five feet ’cause it’s a very, very small incremental change, but you can see we’re very pragmatically, starting with this character and situation, we are bringing in some sympathy with the conflict and impact, and then we’re bringing in some optimism by talking about what we plan to resolve and the impact that it’s going to have with a business rationale, we’re moving up to about 1000 feet and we’re bringing in the sympathy… Right, a wet, we’re focusing on the character, the situation, the conflict, being as concise as possible, and then pragmatically talking about our resolution and optimistically talking about the impact we have with success metrics, we’re going back down to about 5000 feet, and this is sort of loosely based on Google’s heart framework, we’re staying optimistic and we’re talking about the character and the resolution, and then the impact is going to have, and then we’re pragmatically talking about the situation, which in this case is what we’re going to measure.
So now that we have the basics down. Let’s talk about some of the principles. These are some of the things that I have found really make a good story in this align phase, and again, the reason why Alin stories are so important is because actually they’re the longest last… And that brings us to my first principle, which is now what kind of story you’re telling… One of the mistakes I see teams make all across the spectrum, product X, is they think they’re still in persuaded when they really need to be in a line.
Once you sold it, you have to decide what you’re going to do about it, and then keep telling that story and reminding people of what you’re aligned on, that’s very different than being in persuade mode where you’re almost trying to convince someone that this is what we should be doing, it’s really about bringing someone back and saying, Hey, remember what we agreed on, Yeah, this is why we agreed on that.
Right, so understanding that can really, really shape how you construct your narrative and can be really important for the narrative success.
The second principle is, don’t drown people in data, this is another thing that I see on all sides of the perspective, it’s really easy, especially if you’re in a relatively metrics-focused business, to try to throw every number at a problem in order to tell the story of something or try to throw really granular insights into the mix, and what happens is people end up tuning out and not really seeing the bigger picture, in many cases, what you need to do is pull back a little bit and bring in just enough data to support your argument, have the other stuff in your back pocket if you get questions, but don’t try to load so much into a story that you lose track of the big picture.
Third, lead with the human element, this is something that I’ve been working with, especially my engineering to Mont really, really closely, even when we’re making back-end architecture changes, it still creates an impact for a human being who will use our software. So can we find a way to tell the story of why we need to do these infrastructure changes in terms of either the technology and the impact it will enable us to have or the direct impact it’s going to have on what our clients feel and experience?
Finally, have a clear point of view, even an explain when you’re really just trying to lay out the current state, you still need to be able to talk with your team about what this actually means and why it matters, when you can’t come in with a clear point of view on that, it diminishes the value of your story, no matter which of the three types of stories, you’re right.
So that’s most of what I have. A couple of key takeaways to leave you with stories matter, stories live in all the ways we talk about our work, and being thoughtful about how we structure and we tell our stories can set us up for success.
And finally, I will leave you with a quote from soden, which is that the problem is this No spreadsheet, no big geography and no list of resources is sufficient crop to someone who chooses not to believe. The skeptic will always find a reason, even if it’s one the rest of us don’t think is a good one, we’re lying too much on proof distress from the real mission, which is emotional connection, and with that… Thank you.