Once upon a time, lived a beautiful princess in a land full of monsters where danger lurked around every corner.  Just then, Snappy, threw him down the well and he plummeted to his doom.  The End……

Wait.. What happened?  Who is snappy? Who fell down a well? What happened to the beautiful princess?

Obviously you wouldn’t read a book that was written like this but this is the story a lot of websites are telling their users.  It starts out with a beautiful opening scene, but as you delve into the story, it jumps around and doesn’t give you a clear path to follow to get to the end of the story.  When designing your users experience you should think of it as a story.  Most startups focus on a beginning and end but then forget to focus on the action points that gets you through the entire process.

Your story should constantly involve your user and guide them along the story line, never assuming they know what is going to happen next.  Fragmented stories cause confusion, lose returning customers and add more support emails to your inbox.

A great example of a website that tells a great story from start to finish is DropBox.  From the start it leads you through its download process, installation and using the product.  It also adds almost a game element where if you follow the storyline you can receive rewards.

Knowing the story to tell can be a learning process.  I suggest following my simple DEAL formula to discover what your story is and how to tell the story correctly:

  • Discover: your pain points in your story that will cause confusion, by pretending you are a robot and only following the on screen directions your story gives.  Don’t ever assume you need to click something, or continue with something unless it is spelled out for you.
  • Explain: your process out loud, while writing down the steps used to accomplish each task required to get you from start to finish.
  • Adjust: your story by simplifying the tasks so that there is one clear path to follow to continue the story.
  • Listen: to your users, the best way to figure out where your story is confusing is by listening to the support emails and identifying consistent problems.  Ask yourself where the story is not being explained and repeat the Explain and Adjustment step.

In the end, your story should have a clear beginning and clear ending for each task.  It should also walk you through each task and focus on giving one clear path to get from start to finish.

At Indochino, we recently adjusted the “My Profile” story to give the user a clear path from the time they order until the order has been completed and is in the user’s hands.  This has drastically decreased the amount of support emails we are receiving, has saved costs based on users now understanding the story and not making changes to their profile when they shouldn’t be and has increased user satisfaction dramatically by guiding them until their purchase is in their hands.

I highly recommend you constantly ask yourself “What story am I telling my users here” and follow the ongoing DEAL formula to simplify your story into one clear path.

  • Shane McCallum

    Great post Greg, I couldn’t agree more but I have never read it so clear and had it just click like this. Any website that sells things is telling a story and, choose your own adventure or not, there should be clear “paths” to the goal from every location, not just a clear start and finish.

    Websites that are built using this formula do make it almost a game, good reference on the Dropbox, I totally felt it too. Best part about this is that the story format makes the user feel the need to “finish” the story, and before you know it, boom sales.

  • @lynneux

    Great post, Greg. I love to see things like this by people who really are out there, working in the trenches :) I just finished a great book on this very topic. Check out ‘Storytelling fo User Experience’ http://www.rosenfeldmedia.com/books/storytelling/

  • Greg Harrison Post author

    Thanks for the Link @Lynneux! I will read the book for sure. Once this concept clicked with me it made planning user experience not only easier but a lot more fun as you really start thinking in terms of where you want to lead your users and how you can go about doing that. Another great example of a website that tells a great user story is MailChimp.com. I just signed up with them and their user story is not just helpful but also really fun and funny to follow along.

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