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Why story matters in UX

Why story matters in UX

Lija Hogan  |  February 27, 2017

This article is adapted from the book review "Story First for Engaging Experiences" on UXPA Magazine.


People love a good story. They love being the hero in their own story even more. Story is one of the most powerful tools that humans use to understand and communicate with the outside world. Part evolutionary feature, part survival mechanism harking back to Paleolithic times, part communication tool—story powers the human brain. Story-based cognitive function is so powerful that neuroscientists have a term for it when it doesn’t work: dysnarrativia, the inability to understand or construct stories. Narrative cognition is so central to how humans operate that not having it is debilitating. Like living with amnesia, it is difficult, if not impossible, to function normally. Story, and its underlying architecture, powers the ability to understand what happened in the past, what happens in the moment, or what will happen in the future. It’s a framework and a lens with which humans comprehend everything. Whether you plan for it or not, your customers use their story-driven brains to understand your product and what it’s like to use your product. They also use their story-driven brains to tell others about your product. The better the story, the better the experience, the better the word of mouth. More specifically, when people experience something with a story at its foundation—whether it entails watching a movie, riding a roller coaster, or using a website—their brains are activated. They are more likely not just to have a good experience, but to:

  • Remember the experience.
  • See value in what was experienced.
  • See utility in what they did during that experience.
  • Have an easier time doing whatever they were trying to accomplish.
  • Want to repeat that experience.

All of this fits under the umbrella of engagement. If you’re in the business of building products that engage, it’s your job to consider the story that you and your business want your customers to experience. In the book The User’s Journey: Storymapping Products That People Love by Donna Lichaw, you will learn how to map that story—or stories—and align everything you and your business do so that it supports that story. For your customer. And your business. It works for movies, and it will work for you.

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About the author:

Lija is a Customer Experience Consultant at UserTesting. When she's not helping UserTesting customers understand the wide variety of topic areas they can cover using the platform, she teaches a usability research methods class to undergraduates at the University of Michigan - Ann Arbor.