Tell A Story With Our Designs – For A Better Future?

I love to write songs.

My best songs are story-based…you know, in verse one we meet the character, the bridge describes what their struggle is, and the first chorus what they’re feeling. Verse two brings in detail or a new wrinkle to the story, followed by a slightly altered chorus that applies to the situation. Of course after that is a killer guitar solo, and then verse three or a B-section brings a surprising twist…that not only makes the song memorable, but by the end of the final chorus makes the listener think about how it applies to their life in hopes that they will become a little bit better person.

I’m starting to wonder: should our user experience designs tell a compelling story, too?

In this case, instead of the story being about a character we hope the listener likes, the story told by our designs would be about the users data, or their systems, or even the users status updates, photos, and chats. We know these are things our users are already passionate about and they are rooting for to win!

…so why do some of my designs seem like a documentary? “Hmm, your system is this, that, the other thing. You data takes up this much space.” …Distant…sterile…


In these standard designs, there is nothing to connect our user emotionally to their data/systems…nothing to draw them in so they WANT to invest their time helping the story along.

Instead, what if I told a story? What if I introduce their systems as characters in a story…knowing that there are challenges ahead, relationships to nearby networks and storage that deepen the story? What if I make the user interface react to what the characters want instead of asking what the humans that use the product want?

For example, I currently define a target user (persona) along with what goals they have. I then design the software to help the human accomplish their humans goals. What if I turned it around and defined my central character as the users data or the systems they are managing, and then showed in the UI what the characters need?

I know the first push-back would the classic rule saying that I shouldn’t personify a non-living object…

…but what if this is what our next-generation of IT professionals need?

Maybe our future IT professionals need software that help them relate to the datacenter systems…help them connect on some emotional level so they will want follow the systems status, help the system through struggles, and feel empowered and feel some deep satisfaction when their systems succeed and thrive.

Stories have been powerful tools to help motivate and capture human attention for centuries…maybe it’s time we start telling stories with our software?

What do you think?

What if we started our software experience with, “Once upon a time…”?

2013 Mission: Create The Best Designs of My Career

Every January I walk into work with a fresh outlook, clear mind, and am brimming with ideas on what I want to accomplish for the year.

…for exactly 17 minutes.

At the 18th minute (17:03 to be exact), the emails, calls, and instant messages come rolling in asking for my advice, help, work, skills, along with memories about unfinished business from last year. Very quickly I get a full list of to-do’s that have nothing to do with what I really want to accomplish. If I’m not careful, I could spend the whole year fighting these little fires (hence the lateness of this ‘welcome to 2013’ post).

This year, I’m going to be very intentional about achieving my 2013 mission…

2013 Mission: Create the best designs of my career

I know. Lofty. But if I shoot for anything less, our customers lose out. What follows is a list of what I’m going to do so I focus on my mission.

Make My To-Do List MY LIST
My default reaction when I get a request is to agree, then break it down into nuggets I can work on. The result is that each nugget is identified, a solution is defined, and I work to complete them successfully.

The problem?

Most of those to-do’s are either too small to help achieve my mission (just fixing an issue in an existing user interface), or they are to-do’s that contribute to someone else’s mission! While I love helping others succeed, I can’t lose focus of helping our users succeed by providing them the best designs I have ever done.

This year, every time I see a task, I’ll ask myself, “Will this help me accomplish my mission”?  If yes, then onto the to-do list it goes. If not, well, I will say no or delegate to someone who can do it.

Team with “Better Than Me’s”
In the world of user experience, it’s always a plus to have a team filled with folks that are better than you. For me, it raises my game and in the end I produce a better design for our users. I’m fortunate to be in a team that is filled with awesome designers, crazy-great developers, and fellow inventors.

Let my game rise!

Design Less
In 2013, I want to reduce how much UI is needed in designs. In the same way I edit down a song to make the lyrics and music better, I need to constantly  reduce the amount of UI so the interaction is better.

If I keep cutting ‘bells and whistles’ in the design, at some point one sweet tone will ring true…that’s when I’ll know it’s ready.

Design so Users Succeed
This may seem obvious, but many times my focus has been “How do I fit this feature into the product”, or even, “This will provide the feature AND be simpler to develop”. This year my focus will be, “How can our user succeed in their goals…and does this feature even help in that success?”. If I can’t answer that, then maybe the feature shouldn’t be added.

Start. NOW.
I will not wait for the perfect moment, or the muse to strike. I won’t get coffee first…I’ll start the design NOW. The hardest part is to get something on paper. Once there’s something there, you can easily see the gaps, the bad stuff to replace, and the good stuff to keep.

Then, once a draft is done, walking to the coffee lady can be filled with mental iterations on making the design better…then my draft 2 on paper is really draft 18.

Put Pencil to Paper
Seriously. I will actually get blank paper and pencils. Nothing is faster than capturing inspired designs than a pencil drawing on paper. I lost my way trying to create realistic mockups for the first iteration of the design. This year I’ll wait until it’s the 7th iteration.


Welcome to 2013! Happy to have you as a reader, and I can’t wait to create some awesome user experiences!

Question: How are you going to create the best designs of your career?

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