Why We Need Product Storytellers At The Heart Of Product & Technology - Sarah Doody - Sarah Doody
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Why We Need Product Storytellers At The Heart Of Product & Technology

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Update: This post received a lot of great feedback and was re-written in more detail as an article for UX Magazine.


I am not a designer.

The word ‘design’ is far too limiting. What I really do is tell stories. I ask questions, find answers, and figure out how to distill a vision and idea into a product story.

There’s a lot of talk right now in the start up world about creating a founding team and whether a founder should hire technical or product first. The answer is more than obvious.

Technology is a means by which the product is brought to life.

But, without a story for the product, the rest of the team doesn’t don’t know what to build, sell, and evangelize. I’ve seen this happen over and over.

A founder has an idea and hires a team, but often doesn’t have strong product perspective on that team. Then, someone like me comes in, talks to the founder, and synthesizes the vision into a story and prototype, leading to the realization that what the founder envisioned is not what’s being created.

A founder has the vision. A founder provides the starting point. A founder has the initial idea … but a product is more than an idea. A product is more than a website. A product is more than a transaction. A product creates a relationship that produces an experience that brings added value to someone’s life.

In the article The Science of Relationships, I asked the question:

“How can we transform advertising from a series of static touchpoints with a brand to a dynamic network of thoughtfully designed interactions that are tailored to and seamlessly blend with people’s lifestyles – creating a strong brand connection – a lifelong marriage with the brand.”

We need to start thinking about products as relationships. Every company needs a product story that clearly outlines how a relationship will be created and sustained with every person that engages in the product. Part matchmaker, part marketer, part technologist, part artist, part strategist … the product storyteller liaises between all areas of an organization to ensure to that everything being created is helping to strengthen the relationship that the product has with the consumer.

Today we are feeling the effects of not having enough product storytellers. This hinges on the fact that too many people who call themselves designers lack the fundamental skill of storytelling. Before you can communicate anything visually, you have to establish the story that your visualization or experience is going to tell.

To every designer, you need to become a better product storyteller. You need to stop focusing on the pixels and think about the plot, the people, and the product. Write more. Ask questions. Become an expert in relationships.

To every technologist, I respect you. I also know enough of you to know that you feel the frustration and often have to do things over and over due to an unfocused product vision. So please understand that in saying that product should come first, I do this so that when you embark on creating a product, the vision is established and you can focus on creating great technology, not deciphering a disconnected vision.

To every founder, never stop having ideas. It’s because of people like you that new amazing products are brought to market. But, in a society where attention spans keep getting shorter and shorter, please realize that it is the product that establishes the strongest relationships that will win. So before you do anything else, establish your product’s story.

Update # 1:
This post received a lot of great feedback and was re-written in more detail as an article for UX Magazine.

Update # 2:
I’ve been asked to speak on the idea of product storytelling a few times. Here are the slides from one of my talks:

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  • TC

    How do you become a better storyteller? I find it hard to convey ideas. I would love to find resources to learn how to become better at it.

  • I am a web designer/developer and a storyteller, that is, I get up in front of people and tell personal stories, Moth-style. But I’m unclear on what UX strategists mean by storytelling: Is it more than an essay? Does it include elements such as stasis, inciting incidents, conflicts, and crises? Is it overkill to talk about narrative theory? As a storyteller, these are important components of my craft, but as a digital content provider, I’m wondering, how much is too much?

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