You’re out with friends, two of which went to the same high school. They glance at each other and laugh at something from the past that to you, doesn’t make any sense.
That annoying feeling is not dissimilar to attending a design research presentation. Those who were there get ‘it’ but the majority who weren’t feel left out; the empathy fails to scale.
This isn't just a research problem, it's a business problem.
This has been addressed by Nick Bowmast a Design Researcher from New Zealand who proposes we drop the game and ‘frame’ rather than ‘tell’ our teams about research.
What intrigued me about Nick’s approach is it’s unpretentious. With practice, it can be used by anyone to inspire teams to focus on building what people truly need, which in my mind is the essence of design thinking.
Frame, don't tell
As User Experience Designers, we get so focused on the ‘user’ that it’s easy to forget that one of our main tasks is designing an experience for our team. Nick’s story framing method is a recipe for bringing the magic back to the office.
This first step is about boiling down the moments that mattered into a video trailer. Film highlights get those awkward moments out in the open and reveal contrasts between users so your team can drop their biases and instead focus on empathy.
In my experience on Hijacked, a website for college students in Australia, huge differences were found between social users who screaming out to share their opinions and students that were shy and had perhaps had relocated from the countryside.
These users looked to the platform as a way to make friends and be ‘in the know’ and was essential knowledge to share with our developers and the team at large.
A trailer would have been very effective to introduce the team to the quirkier nature of some of the participants without getting too attached to one story over another.
Hot tip: if management can’t attend the whole session be sure they join in to watch the trailer.
Next step is to divide the group into 3 teams to watch 2 x profile videos to watch and dissect. The aim is to select videos featuring different contexts, interests, pains, needs and attitudes towards your product.
The more texture, contrast and personality you can capture in these videos the better. It will make users more memorable and help your team become real advocates for their ‘people’ which is your goal as a story framer.
To support your team give them 1-page guides for structured note taking where they can write a factual description, categorize their observations and create summaries.
Share and compare
Bring the teams back together to share their profiles. Guide your team by prompting them to explain their top 5 observations, top 3 challenges and opportunities.
This is a sticky point where each of the teams get excited as they begin to champion the quirks and insights of each story.
Looking back, I wish I had applied this approach to a broadcasting network who were looking to figure out how to better serve parents and children with their video platform.
As a research team, we learned so much amount about parenting styles, developmental psychology and the sheer chaos and fear around helping kids grow up.
If we would have exported these learnings into contrasting profiles videos it could have been a constant reference point during the strategy and development process.
Hot tip: invite management back so they can see how the trailers have transformed into a journey.
When everyone is back in the room guide them through a large-format visual summary that takes up an entire wall. A map this size will encourage everyone to see, touch and physically pin their observations on the map.
For me, this is the most powerful part of Nick’s approach as it’s the ‘now what’ moment where stories become actions the team can build from.
If done well this map will be your product DNA brought to life by stories that have been preserved by being told and re-told throughout the development process.
A great example is Airbnb who have broken out the moments that matter from user stories and displayed them around the San Francisco HQ.
The ones they’re nailing are in green, ones they are doing well at are white and the ones that need attention are in yellow and are a reminder of what’s working and what can be improved as their product evolves.