Understanding the importance of Narratives in my work

I find myself using the word “narrative” a lot lately. Whether I’m talking about UX and the cohesion of design, or CX and the importance of journey mapping, or agile delivery and the breakdown of epics and stories into sprints. You see… I’m one of those closet dreamers who took a break from their career to earn a master’s degree in creative writing. I’m a closet wannabe novelist working out my frustrations through wireframes and design.

Understanding narrative structures is important to what I do. And for me it’s a simple metaphor for discussing the kinds of work I do on a daily basis.

Though there are a number of related topics, the ones I’ll focus on in this post are story arcs, the granular detail and the backstory.

Story Arcs as they relate to CX

Imagine you’re writing a series of related books. If you want your readers to follow and understand what you’ve written, it’s important to get the overarching story arc in place so that you can ensure that as your readers move from book to book they are following a grand narrative.

As writers, we need to ensure that we stay focussed on the story development and following the narrative – we can’t allow any personal confusion or indecision enter the story, or we risk losing our readers, resulting in a poor experience and exposing our indecision and lack of clarity, interrupting their narrative.

This is not so different when practicing Customer Experience. As Customers move from experience to experience does the journey they are on make sense? Do they feel like they are experiencing the same brand or multiple brands? Are they experiencing a grand narrative or your organisation’s internal dysfunction, e.g. internal silos that bring politics and create division, conflicting KPI’s and inappropriate measures, individual’s trying to meet personal goals and objectives losing sight of the Customer’s experience for which they bear partial responsibility?

Do Customers feel like they are reading unrelated books that are supposed to be part of a series?

Granular Detail as UX

Along this journey you have to write each sentence, paragraph and chapter that make up that story arc – each book that makes up that series.

This is the craft of the writer to take a grand narrative, plot out the story, chapter by chapter and craft words into coherent stories, weave in multiple narratives to misdirect, or enlighten, readers.

The role of the UX is to almost be pedantic in their approach to crafting the detail of each design. The need to interpret the Customer Journey maps, look for connections and opportunities, understand from personas and user testing who are the Customers who will undertake these journeys. They need to understand the process by which Customers will have experiences that are useful and usable. They need to weave in the needs of the business to ensure that everyone’s needs and objectives are met.

Will Customers feel like the words on the page, the paragraphs, and the chapters lead them to the conclusions they are seeking?

Backstory as methodology and delivery

In any novel there will be backstories that take place off the page. Writers understand these back-stories, they know what their characters are doing even when it isn’t their turn to make an appearance in a chapter.

They know what other events are taking place even if those events don’t directly intervene into the paragraphs that users are reading. This is the fabric that holds the whole story together. Because if the story arcs represent the grand narrative, what happens in the background is equally important to ensuring that storylines are delivered at the right moment in the story to bring suspense, or discovery, revelation or joy.

Our project design and delivery methodologies should be invisible to our Customers. They should never be evident in what we deliver. They should be appropriate to getting our designs created, developed, tested and out the door.

Our Customers should delight in the deliverable – not by sidelined by our delivery methodologies. How many times has the process that we’ve followed gotten in the way of the deliverable that we’d envisioned? How often was funding cut to user test, or design cut short due to time issues, or the scope changed mid-way through to give us a fragmented deliverable?

What we put in our Customers hands is a direct reflection of our own organisation and efforts. When we look back over products, features, services that we have delivered – or will deliver – can we honestly say that how we worked hasn’t affected them in an adverse way? Can we say that our own failings haven’t in some way become our Customer’s frustrations?

Has our method of organising our novel, series, narrative structures been too impacted by our inability to expose our readers to our own personal disorganisation?

We need to keep in mind when we undertake the design of digital services and products that we are doing so for people to use them. We are doing so to make our organisations successful through that use.

With the best intention, this is how I talk about what I do.

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