Building empathy with user stories

Posted on Oct 6, 2009 in Blog | One Comment
Building empathy with user stories

As a user experience designer in the agile world, I recognized a while ago that my job is as much about influencing my team’s DNA to include best practices for UX design as it is about actually designing. I’ve supported anywhere from three teams (with a total of sixteen developers) to a single team (with with six developers). No matter what the ratio, though, there’s always been more user interface to design than I can execute (even when I worked ungodly hours). With more work to do than I could cover, some UI design had to be done by other team members.

And yes, even now, that terrifies me. But that’s reality, so I’ve had to go to greater lengths to make sure that the entire development team shares a concrete understanding of the user’s motivations and fears.

User stories have helped me get there. I like to pair user stories with personas derived from user research, so that the “As a x” portion of the story becomes “As Michael.” By marrying the two together, I gain two things:

  • The personas, which historically were read through once before being forgotten, gained greater prominence through repetition–actually achieving that mythical goal of becoming part of the team vocabulary.
  • The user stories became even richer, as each story written from Michael’s perspective drew on the combined history of the user research, the persona itself, and all of the other Michael stories. What was an isolated and generic user story becomes one part of a rich narrative about a specific archetypal user.

Because the user story is present every day during the sprint, tying the user stories to the user research creates a powerful reminder to keep the user at the center of every decision.

1 Comment

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