Daniel: What makes for a good story?
Whitney: I think maybe the most important thing is: you have to care about and really know about the subject you’re telling the story about. So I find I tell stories to my work teams when I have something really important to say or something I really want to share with them, and I want them to experience it. I think you can tell a good story when you have thought pretty deeply about what it is you want to say or want to share.
Kevin: A lot of what makes a good story is when storytellers believe in what they are saying. What also helps is storytellers knowing what they themselves are adding to the stories—what their physical presence and their telling of the story is adding to the story material itself. It’s kind of the left hand and right hand working together, so that’s important. One measure of a good story is when the audience loses track of who they are. When the storyteller knows how to bring them out of themselves, how to appeal to them, how to string ideas together, and use all of this in concert to create a great experience. Every storyteller knows that telling a great story is for the benefit for the audience, not for their own benefit.
Whitney: When you are telling a story as part of a work team, I used to suggest keeping it short, but I think that’s the wrong answer. I think you’ll be aware when you’ve told enough and can stop now, because the people who are sharing the story with you get it and are ready to process the meaning themselves and talk about it themselves and do something with what they have just heard. So knowing when to stop is an important part of a good story.
Daniel: How do you both see storytelling being implemented or woven into product development?
Whitney: Well, I think woven into is the right way of saying this. We sort of joke that we’re not proposing story-driven design. I mean, everybody seems to pick up something that works for them and make that the centerpiece of their new methodology. But I don't think we’re saying that at all. I think what we’re really saying is that, in some form or other, we’re already weaving storytelling into all of our user experience work, so what we can do is use it more consciously—use it more effectively, so the power of storytelling can work for us. I think, a lot of times, when we talk to people in the field of user experience—it doesn't seem to matter what we’re talking about—the first question is always Yeah, but how do I convince someone to let me do that? One of the things that stories do very nicely is that they persuade. But they persuade in a very benign way—by inviting someone into a world you are creating. So instead of arguing about details, you can tell a story about how your vision of the product might play out or how the technique you want to use might play out.