What's Your User Story?

What’s Your User Story?


Stories have been a cornerstone of design for thousands of years. The great pyramids were built to provide the Pharoahs with a safe journey to the afterlife. The Acropolis was built as a monument to the people of Athens. The Sistine Chapel is the centerpiece of any visit to Vatican City. Each of these architectural wonders started out as an idea communicated through stories. Just like them, your website or blog begins with the story of your users. Who are they and why do they come to your site? What is their initial motivation and what compels them to return?  

In web design, user stories make it easier for design teams and stakeholders to share and understand project information. The best way to document your user stories is by using “personas” and “scenarios”. A persona is a written description of a specific member of your target audience and how that user will interact with your site. Scenarios are a set of user tasks performed by a given persona.

Combining personas with user scenarios is an excellent way to get to the heart of a given user story. For example, it’s much easier to understand “Susie is a 32-year old stay at home mom looking for a new online grocery provider” than pouring through reams of disparate data buried in Powerpoint pie charts and user logs. Since they are accessible to everyone, the result is often a more persuasive user experience that effectively supports your marketing goals.

Creating Personas
The best way to create personas is to thoroughly research your target audience. This can be a big budget adventure or a low-budget affair. Try to find actual users to interview. Study user logs if you have them. Most importantly, ask yourself a few questions about your user:
  • What are their demographics? 
  • What influences their buying decisions?
  • Who else do they buy from? Who are your competitors? 
  • What are their hot buttons? 
  • What pain are they experiencing that your product or service will solve?
  • Where are they in the buying process? Did they just hear about you or are they ready to buy now?
  • What language do they use? 
Try to identify what really motivates your customer. Understanding the answers to these questions will help you get on a personal level with your target audience. It will help everyone keep your users in mind as specs change over the course of the project. It will also have a huge impact on the copy and tone of your site.
A total of 3-4 personas should ideally represent most users. Your site can’t be all things to all people, so keeping within this constraint will help you stay focused. Be sure to get your personas signed off by all team stakeholders. It’s critical that everyone agrees on them, especially project sponsors. If there’s a disconnect they probably won’t get used.
Get Your Story Straight With AIDA
Once the team agrees on the personas it’s time to move on to scenarios. You may be familiar with the time-tested marketing formula called AIDA, which stands for Attention, Interest, Desire and Action. Many copywriters depend on AIDA as a creative framework and checklist to develop a compelling story. It’s very useful to apply this framework to your user scenarios. Use these questions to get started:
  • What do you want your users to do? 
  • How will you grab their attention? 
  • How will you hold it long enough to create interest in your site? 
  • What visual and contextual clues will build desire for your product or service?
  • What will make them want to take action? 
  • What will happen after they take action?
  • What will make them want to return to your site?
Answering these questions will help you imagine your users interacting with your site. It may also surface some design problems that need to be solved.             

Story Impact

At this point you should have a strong understanding of your target audience. With personas and user scenarios in hand, the team can start sketching out a basic sitemap and wireframes knowing they have a firm foundation to move forward with design.  

How have stories, personas, and scenarios influenced your design decisions? Download and use this persona template to create your own user stories. Who knows, your design just might make history.

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