Wednesday, February 16, 2005

The User as Hero

There's a wonderful and important post by Kathy Sierra at Creating Passionate Users that you won't want to miss. In The User's Journey, Kathy asks, "What would happen if developers/marketers/teachers tried to help users experience a kind of a hero's journey, and offered a way to help them through each stage?"

The application of Joseph Campbell's groundbreaking work, The Hero With a Thousand Faces, to user experience is something that has intrigued me for years. It started when Chris Vogler, author of The Writer's Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers (a popular introduction to Campbell's ideas), led a seminar for the creative staff at iXL Los Angeles. I ate it up, recognizing how these ideas could lead to superb and meaningful user experiences. I'm still working on the concept, but here's how I introduce the idea to my Clients:
Among those who research human psychology and communication are narrative theorists who assert that we make sense of our world by making up and sharing stories about it. These stories can be individual or can encompass families, communities, companies and nations.

The central idea is that we share stories that reflect our sense of who we are and that these stories actually affect who we become.

The growing recognition of the power of narrative has seeped into the Web design world which is recognizing that the real though subtle stories behind every Web site play a forceful role in the user's experience. Thus identifying the story behind the sites we build is an important part of defining its design.

A site narrative should not be taken literally. It is a backstory that shapes the site's visual design, copy design, information architecture, user interface and programming with an easily remembered parable loaded with metaphor and imagery. Further, a site narrative helps describe the desired user experience and feelings during and after a visit to the site.
I typically follow this with my idea of the narrative of the Client's site based upon Campbell's ideas. I suspect that there are a few snickers from some on the project team, but artists and (especially) content specialists are usually enthusiastic.

Kathy proposes some great stuff, so don't miss her post. And I highly recommend Chris Vogler's book for a good introduction to the power of narrative.

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