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The User's Journey: Storymapping Products That People Love

The User's Journey: Storymapping Products That People Love

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The User's Journey: Storymapping Products That People Love

4/5 (1 evaluare)
238 pages
4 hours
Mar 22, 2016


Like a good story, successful design is a series of engaging moments structured over time. The User’s Journey will show you how, when, and why to use narrative structure, technique, and principles to ideate, craft, and test a cohesive vision for an engaging outcome. See how a “story first” approach can transform your product, feature, landing page, flow, campaign, content, or product strategy.

Mar 22, 2016

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The User's Journey - Donna Lichaw



I was one of those kids who played Dungeons and Dragons (D&D), a fantasy role-playing game that involved going on quests to battle monsters, discover magical items, and drink lots of mead. My friends and I memorized spell books, castle layouts, and Elvish runes, paying more attention to types of armor than we did to types of conjugation for the next English quiz.

In D&D there are two main roles: the player character, who goes on quests in the world of the game; and the Dungeon Master, who operates that world and guides the player characters in their journey.

The first character I played was a wizard. I imagined him being tall, bearded, and wise like Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings… but I was young enough that he owed a lot more to Mickey Mouse in The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. Either way, he was vanquished while trying to cast a sleeping spell on a rather surly bugbear.

Then I tried playing dark, gritty characters like thieves and assassins—they talked tough and fought tougher. Why, my 7th-level Rogue wouldn’t give a bugbear the time of day! Even so, he met his fate while pick-pocketing an unusually large stone giant who, drunken on mead, sat on him.

When I became a Dungeon Master, I didn’t want the players in my game to die as quickly as mine always did. Rather than crushing my players’ dreams with an overly hostile world, I wanted them to have a chance of reaching their goals. That would make for a more interesting game and a far better story. But with my limited experience (I was 13), I didn’t know how to start telling the tale.

You may feel the same way. If you build products or design services, you know how easy it is to get ambushed by constraints, surprised by your competition, and buried in strategies dark and deep. You may find that coming up with that next iteration is much harder than you thought, or you may get usability feedback that changes your entire approach. You may face indecision or conflicts on your team that keep you from moving forward. And even when you’re armed with data and research, it can often seem like you’re on a quest with an uncertain ending.

Donna Lichaw is here to help. Drawing on her experiences with Fortune 500 companies, public radio, filmmaking, and more, Donna helps you navigate the oft-treacherous waters of product development. She helps you not just to tell stories or use stories to promote your product, but to build your products as if they were stories themselves.

Why stories? Because they’re our oldest, best tools for communicating, teaching, and engaging with people. Because they help us understand the landscape of how people interact with our products. And because they help us understand the people themselves.

Using Donna’s approach, you’ll cast your users as the heroes of the story so that everything you do supports them in their journey. And when you help your heroes overcome their challenges, surpass their obstacles, and make progress toward their goals, you’ll also take steps toward your own.

Like Donna says, I wish it were more complicated, but it really is that simple.

So ready your armor, grab a cup of mead, and roll the dice. Here there be dragons, but fear not—Donna gives you the key to defeating them: story first.

—Jonathon Colman

Product UX + Content Strategy, Facebook

Note: All content and viewpoints expressed here solely reflect the thoughts and opinions of the author.


How do you build your storyline? By using 3 × 5 cards.

—Syd Field,


In his classic tome on screenwriting, Syd Field claimed that he could not teach aspiring filmmakers how to write a screenplay. This is not a ‘how-to’ book, he explained. "People teach themselves the craft of screenwriting. All I can do is show them what they have to do to write a successful screenplay. So, I call this a what-to book..."

What Would MacGyver Do?

MacGyver, the eponymous star of the 1980s television show of the same name, could solve any problem or get out of any situation with a needle, some thread, and bubble gum.

Storymapping is much the same. If MacGyver built products, he would map stories. Storymapping can help you solve any engagement-related problem with your product or even create a successful product by mapping the story before you design or build anything.

How do you map a story for your product? All you need are some Post-it notes or note cards, a marker or pen, a whiteboard or wall, data or an imagination, and an understanding of how story works. Then you map your story. Plot point by plot point. There is some trial-and-error involved at first, but once you build your story muscle, you’ll be storymapping like a champ.

I wish it were more complicated, but it really is that simple. And fast. You can do it alone, but I recommend doing it with a team for maximum efficiency and buy-in. While I can’t tell you much more in the how department, I can show you what it takes to build a successful story that works—for you, your customers, your product, and your business. I can also show you how to apply stories once you’ve created them and give you some rules of thumb to set you on the right path.

Let’s say that you want to build a new product, but aren’t sure if it’s a good idea? That’s a story. You want to help people find your product?

Also a story. You want to get people to try your product out? Yup, story. You want to figure out how your product should work? Story. People try your product, but don’t return to use it again? That’s a story, too. A cliffhanger of a story and one that you can easily fix with some props and ingenuity. Just like MacGyver.

You’ll learn how to ask three simple questions before you start any new project:

• What’s the story?

• Who is the hero?

• What is the hero’s goal?

After a while, you won’t just be asking what the story is, but whether it’s a good story. Because a good story isn’t just a random series of events—that’s a flow chart or a terrible student film. A good story makes things go boom! For your customers. And for your business.

Because Structure Is Key

The book is split into three parts. In the first part (Chapters 1–2), you’ll learn why story matters for things that aren’t just entertainment, fiction, or movies, as well as how story functions in products and services. In the second part (Chapters 3–5), you’ll learn about different types of stories and how those frameworks flow through successful products. Finally, in Chapters 6–8, you’ll see how to apply stories to your own work, in different contexts, so that you can build successful products that resonate with your target audience. By the end of this book, you’ll think like a storyteller and work like a storymaker.


Mapping the Story

Making Things Go BOOM!

Why Story?

You need a road map, a guide, a direction—a line of development leading from beginning to end. You need a story line. If you don’t have one, you’re in trouble.

—Syd Field,

Screenplay: The Foundations of Screenwriting

In 2004, I presented my year-end documentary film in graduate school to an audience of around 100 people. As soon as the film ended, before the lights went up, one of my classmate’s hands shot up. I will never forget the first words he uttered—they’re etched into my brain.

I can’t believe you made me sit through that. What was the point?

My film was a dud. It had nothing holding it together: no conflict, no climax, and no resolution—ergo, no story. As a result, I failed to engage my audience. I somehow forgot one of the foundational tenets of filmmaking: if you want to engage your audience, your film must have a story at its foundation.

A website, software, app, service, or campaign—for brevity’s-sake I’ll use the term product for the rest of the book—is similar to a film. They are all things that humans experience. Just like with a film, if you want to engage your audience, your product must have a story at its foundation. You can do this by accident like I did when I created films that people loved. (I did have a few of those, I promise.) Or you can map the story with deliberate care and intent like I eventually learned to do, both as a filmmaker and more recently as someone who helps businesses build products that people love.

Making Things Go BOOM!

Vince Gilligan, creator of the television show Breaking Bad, knows a thing or two about using story to engage an audience. In this photo (see Figure 1.1), he is seated in front of the story map for Season 4.

TV writers are smart. They map the story out before they write a line of dialogue or shoot a single scene. TV shows are large, complex things that are built with large, distributed teams over a long period of time. With so many people, scenes, episodes, and seasons to manage, it’s hard to stay focused on the big picture. Mapping the story on a wall helps TV writers plot a course while keeping the big picture in mind.


Vince Gilligan, creator of Breaking Bad, in front of a story map for season 4.

Mapping the story also helps TV writers build a product that engages an audience by adhering to a millennia-old architecture designed for engagement: a well-crafted story. You’ll learn more about story architecture in Chapter 2, but in the meantime, consider this meticulously placed card near the end of the storyline for Breaking Bad, Season 4 (see Figure 1.2). This card has one word written on it: BOOM. If you’ve seen Season 4 of Breaking Bad, you know what this refers to. If you haven’t, you can imagine. Mapping the story helps TV writers make things go BOOM. And it will help you, someone who builds products, make things go BOOM as well.

Story is why people tune in and stayed tuned in, whether you’re creating a TV show, a movie, or a website. Storymapping is how you make that story happen, whether you’re a screenwriter or a product person.


A close-up of a story card for Breaking Bad.

Storymapping is just what it sounds like: mapping out an intended experience of use for a product, plot point by plot point. This concept of mapping stories is not new. It’s something that Aristotle started doing a very long time ago as he sought to understand what it was about Greek dramas that enraptured audiences, so their success could be reproduced. It’s something screenwriters have been doing for years. It’s something I eventually learned to do for films and more recently with products. And it’s something that you can do on your next project or product.

Why Story?

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

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