Using storytelling to build websites
Published July 28th, 2016

Storytelling predates writing and has traditionally been used to entertain, educate, preserve culture and reinforce moral values. The key elements storytelling includes plot, characters and narrative point of view and all good stories include someone overcoming a problem or defeating a foe.

In modern times storytelling has been adapted as a means of advertising good and services for sale and this has evolved considerably as online medium have started to dominate.

In web design and software development, user stories are increasingly used to capture the requirements of website users in a way that is easy for them to explain and which captures much more useful information than a list of required features.

They are developed by simply allowing users (including administrators and editors) to tell stories about how they use a website or need to use a website. They can offer a fast way of capturing customer requirements without having to write formalized requirement documents.

User stories - story telling graphic.

Consider this example:

Requirement

The website needs to have a list of attractions somewhere on the website.

User stories

As a visitor to Tichbornes Farm Cottages I want to be able to search for attractions by category so that I can see if there are activities to interest me nearby.

As a website operator, I want to be able to create and manage comprehensive local attraction listings with ease, so that I do not need to rely on Honeystone developers to do it for me.

As a website visitor, I want to know the name of the attraction I am interested in.

As a website visitor, I want to be presented with a main image of the attraction, so that I can quickly gauge an opinion of it.

As a website visitor, I want to be informed of the exact location of each attraction, so that I can decide whether it is a suitable attraction for me to visit.

As a website visitor, I want to see a map of the locations of all local attractions listed on the website, so that I can see at a glance what is available for me to visit, and choose a suitable attraction.

As a website visitor, I want to see a gallery of images for the attraction I am interested in staying in, so that I can gather a good opinion of the attraction, allowing me to guage if it is a suitable attraction for me to visit.

The requirement simply tells you that

The website needs a list of attractions somewhere on the website.

The user stories reveal much more about how the website needs to be developed to give the best possible user experience:

Local attraction listings as separate section on the website

A main “iconic” image for each attraction

Individual attraction locations and the ability to filter by your interests

An attraction map based on the Google maps API

A photo gallery for each attraction

As you can see the user story has revealed much more about how to provide a greater user experience for visitors. This will in turn give them a more enjoyable stay, possibly save time and fuel and give a better impression of the holiday let. Once the holiday is over the experience is likely to result in better feedback, more repeat business and hopefully even referrals.

History

The first structured format user stories for software development were developed by Ron Jeffries in 2001 and captures the "who", "what" and "why" of requirements in a concise and simple, way.

"As a <role>, I want <goal/desire> so that <benefit>"

This is also known as the traditional user-story template and shares the key elements of plot, characters and narrative found in traditional stories.

Some examples of commonly occurring user stories are below:

As a website operator I want to be able to write and edit pages for my website, so that I don't need to rely on Honeystone developers to do it for me.

As a website operator I want to be able to add and edit blog posts for my website, using an intuitive front end interface, so that I don't need to rely on Honeystone developers to do it for me.

As a potential visitor I want to call Bramble Farm Cottages (telephone number) so that I can discuss any queries I might have.

User stories often capture what a user does or needs to do as part of his or her job function but can of course apply to users looking for good or services, to seek information or simply to look for amusement or entertainment.

Limitations and other tools

User stories do not facilitate direct modelling of complex functionality or personas and sometimes other forms of user modelling should be deployed. I will talk about these more in upcoming posts but here are a few of the other user modelling tools we use at Honeystone.

A user journey is a series of (typically 4-12) steps documented to represent a scenario where a user interacts with whatever you are designing. They can be used to demonstrate the way users currently interact with your service, website or product and also how they could interact.

User personas are realistic representations of your key audience segments for reference. The amount of detail you include should be dictated by the scope of the project but for web design it’s often important to include their name, demographics, computer literacy, job, interests, device ownership (PV, mobile tablet) and travel patterns. Use of social media and other web platforms is also important.

A use case is a list of actions or event steps, typically defining the interactions between a role and a system, to achieve a goal. Use cases are typically more structured than user stories and can use user personas, user stories and user journeys as their building blocks.

User stories can of course also be expressed in many other formats – sometimes more structured and sometime “stream of consciousness”. The tools that you use and how you use them should be appropriate to the project – at Honeystone we don’t have a fixed recipe but prefer to use the tools which will give the best result for each individual project.

The appropriate use of user stories and other user modelling techniques will ensure that a client and their users get the right features and a project that delivers real benefits. Use stories are of course used by many software and web development companies so what differentiates is how they are used. Honeystone’s flexible approach ensure that every project is custom and therefore that every client gets the best possible results for their budget.

http://theuxreview.co.uk/user-journeys-beginners-guide

http://www.usability.gov/how-to-and-tools/methods/personas.html

https://www.gov.uk/service-manual/agile/writing-user-stories

https://www.mountaingoatsoftware.com/agile/user-stories

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User_story https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Use_case

David avatar

David Foster

I founded Honeystone in 2003 to help people achieve greater success by harnessing the awesome power of the internet. Formulating strategies, helping build brands and seeing clients thrive are my primary motivators. The professional and technical development of Honeystone underpins this and I am extremely proud to work with a team who share my vision of how we can make the internet a better place for all users. Badminton, cycling, entertaining and live music are some of my other passions.