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The Story of Story: Using Narrative Elements in the Service of Usability.

The Story of Story: Using Narrative Elements in the Service of Usability.

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The Story of Story: Using Narrative Elements in the Service of Usability.

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  1. The Story of Story: Using Narrative Elements in the Service of Usability. John C. Thomas Usability Professionals Association June 15, 2006

  2. Agenda • Why story? • What makes for a good story? • How can stories be useful in promoting useful and usable systems? • How do you elicit or create stories? • The Walking People (Oral history of the Iroquois): BOTH Story AND Pattern Language • Some Socio-technical Patterns from the Iroquois • Questions and comments?

  3. Why an interest in stories? • Returned to IBM to work in Knowledge Management in 1998 • “Knowledge management is simply getting the right information to the right person at the right time.” • The story of Dr. Maciw • Human beings are not just information processors; also energy processors – media matters, presentation matters • Guernica, Lincoln Memorial, “Flight” • Observe people: you can tell when they are sharing stories: body language and voice animation

  4. Stories are memorable and motivating • Can communicate a huge amount of “tacit” knowledge to those who have the requisite background experiences; e.g., Harvey Penick‘s Little Red Book : Lessons And Teachings From A Lifetime In Golf • Once experienced, a huge complex of knowledge may now be referenced easily; e.g., Robin Williams in Aladdin

  5. Stories tend to focus on the “edges” of human experience

  6. Though experienced sequentially, story has hierarchical structure

  7. Stories can be viewed as three-dimensional:

  8. Character versus Characterization • Character is revealed by choices under pressure; it is what the person is essentially • Often confused with mere characterization – the surface aspects of a person: male/female; age; plays the flute; works at IBM; has a white beard; talks with a Dublin accent, etc. • Develop empathy for the hero from the outside in

  9. Revealing tension between character and characterization

  10. Stories feed on CONFLICT • Intra-psychic • Inter-personal • With the larger society or physical world • The most interesting stories have all three; e.g. The Sound of Music, Casablanca

  11. What makes for a good story? • A hero who wants something passionately; many obstacles; willing to go to the “end of the line” (Romeo & Juliet) • Three main dimensions: Character, Plot, Setting • Conflict: External World, Interpersonal, Intra-psychic (e.g., Sound of Music) • Action: In every scene a value should change from good to bad or vice versa • An emotional “roller coaster.” A story arc. • Cf. “success stories” on a website

  12. Story strength elements: • a protagonist with whom we can empathize and sympathize • time pressure • something important at stake (customer shaved 5% off costs vs. stay in business and 1000 jobs saved in a small town) • clear protagonist goal • rising action and complication; mounting risk • formidable antagonist (Superman: identity, kryptonite, loves friends) • peaks and valleys • harmonious emotional sequence • use of audience superior position or suspense • new twist on universal theme • meaning -- an underlying theme

  13. Objective Situation: Sensation and Feeling: Emotion: Inner Conflict: Work from the outside in to engage empathy:

  14. The wind howled. Jack felt the sting of the sleet. “Blast it! Suzi doesn’t really need this medicine!” “Why do I always let her talk me into these hair-brained schemes anyway? Why don’t I fight back?” Work from the outside in to engage empathy:

  15. Mechanisms of Good Presentation: • Show, don’t tell • Text and subtext • Active, specific verbs; try to avoid “is” “went” “had” • Use periodic sentences: put critical information at the end: “I’ll kill you with this gun if you don’t hand over all your gold right this minute.” vs. “Hand over your gold right now, or die.” • Turn “exposition” into “ammunition”

  16. Text and Subtext: • If the scene is about what the scene is about, you are dead in the water • Love Story 1: A couple goes out to a romantic, candlelit dinner; soft music plays. He says, “Oh, I love you.” She says, “Oh, I love you too.” The hold each other’s hands and stare lovingly into each other’s eyes. • Love Story 2: Man is having trouble changing a tire and a woman stops to help. “Hand me the wrench.” • Text/Subtext encourages “deeper processing” of material thereby making it both more interesting and more memorable.

  17. Use Specific Verbs • "John went across the room." • How? By tricycle? Levitation? Teleportation? Hit by Arnold Schwartzenegger? Or, what? • Ambled • Staggered • Crawled • Strode • Leapt • Floated • Cartwheeled

  18. Turn Exposition into Ammunition • Avoid “Feather Dusting” dialogue. “So, how long have we known each other, Mike? 35 years, eh? Yeah, ever since we were undergraduates together at Case-Western.” • “Geez, Mike! Look at you! When are you going to get a clue? It’s 2006 but you’re still wearing the same flower power shirts you wore at our Phi Epsilon Pi parties at Case-Western in the 60’s.” • “Yeah, well, at least I don’t wear the same dark suit and power tie combo as every other robot in this city.”

  19. Emotional Sequencing • The characters in the story need to follow a logical emotional progression; e.g., fear -- > hate; Stockholm syndrome • But, the READERS of the story generally have to follow an emotional progression as well. • Scene One ends with something totally disgusting • Scene Two opens with erotic love ??

  20. Agenda • Why story? • What makes for a good story? • How can stories be useful in promoting useful and usable systems? • How do you elicit or create stories? • The Walking People (Oral history of the Iroquois): BOTH Story AND Pattern Language • Some Socio-technical Patterns from the Iroquois • Questions and comments?

  21. Stories can be used to enhance usability. • Stories can help us understand customer needs more deeply • FORTUNE, Feb.3rd, 1997 • Stories can be used for knowledge creation and sharing within a Community of Practice • Scenarios can help concretize and communicate Requirements and Design • Stories can help users understand the system • In some cases, the product is the story (Pine & Gilmore, The Experience Economy).

  22. Understanding Customer Needs • Surveys and self-reports often induce a “should” mode; e.g., people claim to read The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times --- not USA Today or The National Enquirer. • Stories may induce more of a “what is” mode. • Stories can also induce fantasy and get people to go beyond current context. • Stories can induce deeper wants and needs that may transcend current fashion or technological possibility.

  23. How do story and usability relate? • Useful usable Design depends on: • User • Context - Environment • Task; Goals • Evolving Interaction over time • Major Problems: • Gulf of Execution • Gulf of Evaluation

  24. Usability and good story • Good Usability (STORY) Design depends on: • User -- (PROTAGONIST) • Context – (ENVIRONMENT) • Task -- (GOALS) • Evolving Interaction over time • Major Problems: (MAJOR DEVICES): • Gulf of Execution = (CAN’T ACHIEVE GOAL) • Gulf of Evaluation = (SURPRISING RESULT)

  25. We want protagonists who: • Are willful...have a conscious goal -- will go to the end of the line....want very much to get their task done may have a contradictory unconscious goal • Have a CHANCE of getting the goal • Teachable • Have strong antagonist(s) (the system?) • Are resourceful use many strategies • Cause us to empathize with them

  26. Developers may see users as protagonists who: • Are not willful... will not go to the end of the line....couldn't care less. • Instead of having a CHANCE of getting the goal, are either hopeless – or, if the developers are wildly successful MUST reach the goal. • Instead of strong antagonist(s), have trivial difficulties. • Instead of being resourceful, they have not even RTFM. • Users are often not portrayed so as to cause developers empathy. • Emphasis is often put on characterization, not character --- hence • No-one really cares --- no empathy has been created

  27. Empathy as Method • Rat study in the 1930’s compared Hull’s theory and Tolman’s theory to predict behavior of rats in a number of situations.... • And the winner was....

  28. A group of non-professionals asked to imagine what is was like to be a rat and what would they do in this situation if they were a rat.

  29. Later, at IBM in the 1970’s • I asked individuals who were unfamiliar with business processes, to imagine each of several roles involved in an invoicing process and then to imagine what information they would want to have on an invoice if they had that role. • Each person was able to generate almost all of the information actually required on an invoice

  30. Heuristic Evaluation + Empathy • Control Group and Experimental Group given equal amounts of time to find potential problems with system and suggest improvements • Experimental Group asked to successively imagine the perspectives of various people; e.g., cognitive psychologist, behavior therapist, occupational therapist, worried mother, Freudian analyst, etc. • Experimental Group of Developers and Non-professionals found significantly more usability issues and more suggestions than Controls • Desurvire, H. & Thomas, J. C. Enhancing the performance of interface evaluators using non-empirical usability methods. In Proceedings of the HFS 37th Annual Meeting. HFES:Santa Clara, CA, 1993.

  31. Story and Usability • The Author (cf. "authority", "authentic") must KNOW • The World of the story • The Characters • Architect a sequence of events through space-time • Possibly also a sequence of character changes, • and/or world changes • AND a presentation to the reader • presentation ~= events • text ~= subtext

  32. Story and Usability • The Usability Expert must KNOW • The Context in which users operate • The Users • Architect potential sequences of events through space-time • Possibly also a sequence of changes in mental model, • and/or world changes • AND presentations to various stakeholders • presentation ~= events • text ~= subtext

  33. Agenda • Why story? • What makes for a good story? • How can stories be useful in promoting useful and usable systems? • How do you elicit or create stories? • The Walking People (Oral history of the Iroquois): BOTH Story AND Pattern Language • Some Socio-technical Patterns from the Iroquois • Questions and comments?

  34. Story: • How to collect stories • How to morph stories • How to create stories

  35. Social Dynamics of Storytelling • Storytelling is a social act. Who tells stories to whom? • Storytellers Exercise Power. How does storytelling impact status? The "victors" write the history. • Storytelling Involves Risk. What are the risks? Are there ways to tell stories that mitigate risks? Telling a story versus Writing a story. Most people like to tell stories; very few like to write stories. • Storytelling is Often Collaborative. Stories beget stories. Comparing individual stories can lead to larger truths accepted by a community or team.

  36. Social Dynamics of Storytelling (Continued) • Storytellers Try to Enhance Face. What are some of the methods of doing this? How can we use this knowledge to contextualize the story as told? • Culture impacts Story. How do people from various cultures modify stories? How can we learn about culture from story? • Typically, it is best to observe storytelling among peers; however, sometimes, you need to elicit stories. • Elicitor Guidelines. How can you effectively elicit stories from others?

  37. Observations and Conversations with Interviewers (by Deborah Lawrence): • Reporters • Medical Record Takers • Police Investigators • Hot line volunteers • Therapists

  38. Guidelines for Eliciting Stories • Provide a "warm-up" period. • Tell something personal and revealing about yourself; perhaps tell a story that is a model of the kind of story you're looking for. • Observe an implicit contract of trust. • Provide a motivation for the story -- why it's important. • Accept the storyteller's story and worldview. Don't resist the story. • Reveal who you are, how the story will be used, potential audience and goals, answer questions. • Use questions to probe. Sometimes, a totally "off the wall" question can create space for story to emerge. • Empower the storyteller -- they are the expert. • Avoid threat; don't appear as an expert yourself. • Listen with avid interest.

  39. Techniques for morphing "Negative Stories“Issue: We can learn from others mistakes butHow to do so in a corporate environment? • Anonymity • Projective spaces; e.g., British Navy Admiral cartoon • "Trusted Source & registered anonymity" (e.g., Moose Crossing) • Re-framings: "I almost did X, but -- Deus Ex Machina -- hence, goodness" • "I had intra-psychic conflict; almost did X, but thankfully did ~X; hence, goodness" (airline seats) • "As an experiment, on a small scale, we did X and discovered badness; hence, ~X"

  40. Creating Stories • Take a "What if?" larger, smaller, prettier, uglier, stronger, longer, grosser, etc. • Focus on an action, a person, a thing, a quality and say: • where did this come from ? • where is it going? • how did it get here? • when will it end? • who made this happen? • why is this here? • what will happen next?

  41. The best stories come from ... • When were you most upset? • When were you most frightened? • When were you most amused? • When were you most yourself? • When were you forced to be least yourself? • When were you most angry? • When were you most earthy? • When were you most spiritual? • Can use your own experiences even if the “setting” and “content” of the story you are creating is quite different.

  42. The Walking People • Oral history of one branch of the Iroquois transcribed into English by Paula Underwood • Includes additional material about the translation, the relation of the narrated locations to modern geography and about the process of using the story • Less like a “blog” than a “Pattern Language”

  43. The Walking People is persistent • Internal Redundancy • Songs repeated often • All learn the narrative • However, some are especially selected and trained as storytellers • “Listening” is not passive but an active process that requires “deep” processing • An awareness of the possibility of error