Q&A

The story-first ad­vo­cate ex­plains why you should make your users heroes

net magazine - - CONTENTS -

Ed­u­ca­tor and au­thor Donna Lichaw shares her in­sights on story-first de­sign

net: Tell us a bit about what you do ... DL: I help busi­nesses and non­prof­its bet­ter en­gage their au­di­ence with web­sites, soft­ware, apps and ser­vices. For ex­am­ple, I will help you fig­ure out how to get more peo­ple to use your app, or how to en­cour­age more peo­ple to buy some­thing.

net: In your book, The User’s Jour­ney, you de­scribe a story-first ap­proach. In a nut­shell, what is this? DL: If you’re build­ing suc­cess­ful busi­nesses, your job is to move peo­ple to ac­tion. You need to get them ex­cited about your prod­uct or ser­vice, get them to want to do some­thing, help them through a path, and then make sure they see value in en­gag­ing with your brand. Be­fore I worked in tech, I was a film­maker and had lots of prac­tice do­ing all these things. Devel­op­ing a suc­cess­ful prod­uct is much like devel­op­ing a suc­cess­ful story for a film. It all starts with a fairly sim­ple story struc­ture. With­out it, you’re launch­ing best guesses.

net: What in­spired you to de­velop this ap­proach? DL: Af­ter many years work­ing on dig­i­tal prod­ucts, I started to see the most suc­cess­ful were those that had a solid story at their foun­da­tion. The rest did not. A few years ago, I was help­ing a startup re­vive a fail­ing prod­uct, and I started to won­der if the story was in­her­ent to suc­cess­ful prod­ucts or some­thing that could be en­gi­neered – just like a movie. Once we started to ap­proach prod­uct de­vel­op­ment like film de­vel­op­ment, we were able to quickly and eas­ily reimag­ine the prod­uct into some­thing that is now very suc­cess­ful.

net: How did you end up mov­ing into tech? DL: I ac­tu­ally started work­ing in tech at the same time I started mak­ing films. In col­lege, I made films in school and worked as a mul­ti­me­dia de­signer, project man­ager and in­for­ma­tion ar­chi­tect the rest of the time. Early on it seemed like my work in tech was like a 2D ver­sion of my 3D work in film, but as tech got more so­phis­ti­cated, the two be­came more sim­i­lar. As the in­dus­try be­came con­cerned with user re­search and ap­proach­ing de­sign prob­lems as hu­man prob­lems, my work in tech started to re­sem­ble my work mak­ing doc­u­men­taries. I did qual­i­ta­tive and quan­ti­ta­tive re­search to help un­cover and solve prob­lems, and then ar­chi­tected so­lu­tions that had to not just work, but be en­gag­ing.

net: You do a lot of speak­ing at events. What do you think is key to a great con­fer­ence pre­sen­ta­tion? DL: A story! When I was work­ing with that fledg­ling startup a few years ago, I started teach­ing a class that had a lot of con­tact hours. I was afraid my stu­dents would lose in­ter­est or not re­tain what they learned. I read some books about pre­sen­ta­tion de­sign and they all preached the im­por­tance of hav­ing a solid story struc­ture at the core of your pre­sen­ta­tion.

This was around the time I started ask­ing my­self if ev­ery­thing needed a story in or­der to en­gage an au­di­ence. I wove story struc­ture into my classes, the prod­uct for the startup, my talks and work­shops. What I’ve found is that if you want to en­gage your au­di­ence, you need to make each per­son feel like a hero. The best way to do that? Craft a story, call them to ac­tion, take them on a jour­ney, pro­vide value, and help them see what they can do next.

net: What are you work­ing on at the mo­ment? DL: I just fin­ished up the first part of a re­ally fun project for the non­profit that main­tains Cen­tral Park in New York City. We set out to answer why peo­ple use the park, why they do­nate to the con­ser­vancy, and how to get more of those peo­ple to do­nate. The an­swers are the foun­da­tion for a dig­i­tal strat­egy that will guide web­site and prod­uct de­vel­op­ment for the next year. Other than that, I’m work­ing on one of the coolest projects I’ve ever worked on: we have a new baby at home. That will be my top project for the next cou­ple of months at least.

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