UX, TechniquesPaul McAleer

Storytelling

UX, TechniquesPaul McAleer

Two days ago, I had the honor of speaking at SXSW 2015 with my good friend Elysse Zarek. It was my second time presenting there, and there really is no other conference like it.

After being intrigued with attending sessions from other tracks (Film or Music) last year, I had the opportunity to do so this year. I attended two from Film: one about telling great true stories, and only the 2nd screening ever (!) of the Mavis Staples documentary, Mavis!

The two sessions really played together well. I heard from journalists, writers, and filmmakers about their approach and craft. It was surprising to me to hear that they often will start their interviews and their work before finding the emotional core of the story. I would not have thought of that. I heard how different it is to take a story for radio (This American Life, specifically) and adapt it to film. Both of these things really got me thinking about design work.

In UX, we start with our structure. We talk with people, sketch things out, define an IA, maybe wireframe things up, and iterate, iterate, iterate. We listen, we record, we comb through transcripts. We start looking for the emerging patterns and... yes, the story. We then articulate that story by addressing it in design: interactions, flows, screens, products, what-have-you. It runs very parallel.

Similarly, there was discussion of the narrative. Subjects of interviews come in with their own narratives, often casting themselves as the hero or the villain. That gets shifted a bit, perhaps, because the filmmaker also has a narrative. She may find it aligns with the subject's narrative, or not. Finally, once something is out in the world, the audience has a narrative. Of course once it's out there, the subject may then directly engage with the audience!

It's a process that can be cyclical and messy but, again, it sounded like design to me. Users come in with their life story, their experiences, and their problems. We bring in our experience in this realm, and try to shape those things into... something. But once the product is out there, it's no longer ours, and we may try to improve it or change it, but it's up to others to use it as they see fit.

Fascinating stuff. It made me appreciate film for many reasons and also got me totally intrigued on how many other parallels there are between the mediums. I opined at the end of the evening that I wanted to make films. You never know.