Matthew Garvin

UX Research, Design, Strategy

I’m a Storyteller: Modeling Users, and Crafting Analogies for Better Design

I use analogies. I’m constantly on the lookout for the perfect analogy to describe this phenomena or that. For example, how do you describe culture to someone?

 If you go to the dictionary and recite: the customs, arts, social institutions, and achievements of a particular nation, people, or other social group -(see: (Links to an external site.)) I for one would find that answer lacking. I combine a definition with my cake analogy. That humans are born as a box of cake mix, culture is the eggs and an individual’s environment is the oven. Once you bake the eggs into the cake, the eggs are indistinguishable from the cake.

Now I feel as though I already knew this, but improv comedy possesses an invaluable toolkit for us as designers to borrow from. In truth I can’t think of a better way to achieve more divergent ideation in a short span of time. 

Off the top of my head some of the benefits of developing improv skills as a UX Designer are as follows:

  • You develop your active listening and observation abilities.
  • Practice and perform ideation techniques in collaboration with the other members of your group where you have to understand and build off your partners ideas in the moment as they act them out.
  • It improves your storytelling capability as you have to convey the appropriate context in a short amount of time to an audience with little to no material assistance. In many cases you are quite literally bodystorming an entire setting with nothing more than a chair.
  • It improves your ability to think on your feet and tap into your creativity.

I learned a lot from the Cooper chapter about how to construct personas. Specifically, while personas are presented as individuals, they are actually composites of a variety of users as determined through the analysis of user research. They are powerful tools for us as designers to present a range of behaviors, something which all products must strive to accommodate. (Cooper pg. 83) Furthermore, I found an understanding of the range of persona types to be particularly helpful for my current and future projects. And in particular, the design principle that we should focus the design of each interface on a single primary persona. (Cooper pg. 105)

To put this in perspective, in 501 I was assuming that my group would create a customer journey map based on a persona crafted from each of our 6 stakeholders, and then try to design in such a way to satisfy all 6 as best we could. It didn’t occur to me to make 1-2 personas based on information from the 6, and then just design for the 1 primary persona while taking into consideration the 2nd persona, but not necessarily designing for it.

Many companies are rushing to get their own “UX designer” but they often don’t really understand what that means. In many instances, they think UX is simply a set of principles and heuristics that the designer employs to optimize products, no user research needed. Or they might try to hand you some market research from the marketing department and expect that to suffice.  I’m not sure where the link went, but I had read an article several months ago about how to discern whether or not the UX job you are applying for is really a UX job. The key identifier was whether or not user research was a part of it. If it’s not, you should probably keep looking elsewhere.

There’s also an issue if you are working in a company that does appreciate user research as an important part of the user-centered design process, but there’s an economic downturn, and the board is looking to make cuts. Because of its newness and relative ambiguity in comparison to a department like marketing, UX is going to be close to the first to get the budget cut.

That’s why it’s also important for us as design professionals, to learn the language of business so that we can advocate on behalf of our discipline. Basically we have to get some numbers and prove our worth. Talk in terms of ROI and convince who we need to convince that it is significant enough to warrant the investment.

There was a time with UX would yield an average $100 for every $1 invested! That’s huge! I think marketing methods average $10-20 for every $1. Of course, UX is much closer to marketing averages these days, but UX provides an opportunity to be disruptive in a way that marketing and advertising simply cannot. Still, MBA’s all feel more comfortable investing in those rather than the veritable games we play with post-its by comparison. In which case we’ll have to convince them. 

Some benefits of UX Design (courtesy of Frank Spillers at IDF in lesson 2.2 of User Experience: The Beginners Guide)

  1. Products that meet the user’s needs – If your users are involved in the design process then your final product should meet their needs. That should deliver a more commercially viable offering and thus higher levels of profit for the company.
  2. Products that require less tinkering after release – It’s cheaper and easier to tweak sketches, wireframes and prototypes than it is to tweak a product after launch. UX enables a company to work out what doesn’t work and then abandon it before the development phase rather than after.
  3. Products which are less risky to the business’s reputation – UX is a quality measure. When you release products that users love to use and that meet their needs; your business reputation will grow. Conversely if you don’t get things right – your reputation will fall.
  4. Products which are relatively immune to scope creep – If you define the user’s needs and then design with them in mind; there should be a whole lot less scope creep and that makes it easier to budget for a project and to define a delivery timetable.
  5. Products which are competitive – the research phase of UX means that you should know what competitors are doing and how your product will be “better”. Design in this manner is based on the evidence and not on the “gut instincts” of the development team.

Some indirect benefits too:

  • Lower costs to the business of product development – Well defined projects which are on time and on budget are less expensive than those that are continually redefined.
  • Customer satisfaction – If the UX for a product is high then you’ll have happy customers reducing the burden on both support teams and customer services.

Featured Photo by Florian Klauer on Unsplash


Chapters 2, 7, 8, 9 in Quesenbery, W. & Brooks, K. (2010). Storytelling for User Experience: Crafting Stories for Better Design. Brooklyn, NY: Rosenfeld Media.

Chapter 5 – “Modeling Users: Personas and Goals”, Alan Cooper

Richard Sheridan (2013). Joy, Inc.: How we Built a Workplace People Love. Chapter: The Power of Observation.

“Section 4.4: The Narrative Storyboard” in Greenberg et al. (2012). Sketching User Experiences: The Workbook. Waltham, MA: Morgan-Kaufman.

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