User Centred Design and defining the narrative

The process

The research and concepting phase is key to delivering a solution that solves a customer or business problem and User Centred Design (UCD) has become the best practice approach. This is largely due to the use of field/ethnographic studies in the research phase and the validation of concepts through User Testing and feedback. The first incarnation of UCD could be seen in Design Thinking (developed in the 1970’s) that argued for a shift away from analytical thinking to creative thinking in an attempt to innovate and problem solve. The approach encourages people to think outside the box. The process includes engaging a broad range of disciplines from accountants, creatives, technologists etc, within the organization in concepting workshops (often referred to as ideation). The workshop starts with broad ideas and narrows these down to the best ideas that solve the problem, with a focus on the end user. This is driven through the user research that promotes empathy during the concepting phase. Finally, designs are validated by testing a proto-type with users and seeking feedback.

The narrative

The use of narrative and organizational storytelling is on the rise. CEOs and Thought Leaders have turned to it as a way to communicate a vision. The reason for this is that stories evoke emotion and empathy that inspire people, partly as they can put themselves in the shoes of the story’s character(s). For CEO’s and Thought Leaders storytelling has the potential to generate buy-in and motivate people to deliver the vision, and good UCD is a way to identify these stories. This is partly because of the authenticity that comes from the UCD process and its approach to validating the solution.

Creating the narrative

Effective user research captures stories about people, their thinking and behaviours in the context of their environments. This raw data is typically used to create personas (a character with attributes and behaviours) and map journeys and customer touch points to help design solutions for customer or business problems. This is inline with the classic art of storytelling depicting character(s) and their journey to overcome conflict, set against locations and events. In organizational storytelling conflict is replaced by a business problem and the happy ending achieved by solving the problem and as a result the customer achieving their goal(s).

Creating stories through UCD

There are 4 steps to creating a narrative from UCD.

1 – Use the narrative construct or framework to tell your story, that is i) there are character(s), ii) set against a series of events, iii) as they try to reach their goal by resolving conflict. In additional stories use a 3 act structure, they have a beginning, middle and an end.

2 – Use the customer or business problem as the story’s conflict and the user goal as the character(s)’ goal.

3- identifying the character(s) through the personas. Personas are key outputs of UCD research. They are used to assist with design by User Experience Designers and typically contain – i) the character details (name, age, back story, goals and frustrations), ii) attributes, iii) their relationships and iv) specifications such as technology awareness, touch points etc

4) – Kraft their journey, this will come from the customer journeys, another output of the UCD process.

In conclusion

The vision presents the future or end state and its benefits. It therefore cannot be fact but must be based on fact to support its possibility. This is where UCD can be used as it creates personas/characters people can relate too, and builds scenarios to capture an “as is” and “to be” state that present the future vision. In doing so UCD creates stories that are the basis of change within organizations.


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