Wednesday, July 20, 2005

So What's the Big Deal?

And why did I write so much about the role of story in the rise and decline of Baskin-Robbins 31 Ice Cream?

Two reasons.

First, it was a roundabout (OK, a very roundabout) way to review Seth Godin's outstanding new book, All Marketers Are Liars: The Power of Telling Authentic Stories in a Low-Trust World.

This is a book that belongs on every UXCentrist's bookshelf—not because we're liars, nor because we're professional marketers, but because UX at its core must include storytelling. (More about that in a moment.) By telling the story of Baskin-Robbins' story, I hoped to intrigue you with Godin's ideas and illustrate them in a way that would encourage you to read his book. If we UX-obsessed folks hope to change the world's experiences of the Web, we'd better grok everything we can about story.

Which leads to my second reason—to encourage us to start thinking about UX in new ways. In A Whole New Mind, Dan Pink quotes cognitive scientist Mark Turner:
Narrative imagining—story—is the fundamental instrument of thought. Rational capacities depend on it... Most of our experience, our knowledge, our thinking is organized as stories.
What's so amazing is not that we're just discovering this, but that we forgot it in the Information Age. Facts alone seemed sufficient. The myth of objectivity fooled us into thinking that we could apply a neutral science to human endeavors. We mistook knowledge for wisdom.

Here's what troubles me. So much of what we hear about UX today reflects that error. It's all about technique, about methods, about facts. We do usability studies. We apply UI patterns. We build taxonomies and thesauri. We do card sorts and anthropological observation of users in their native habitats. Do you see what's lurking behind this? We're taking what is innately human and mysterious—experience—and acting as if we can master it with principles and practices.

We can't. Those things are indeed invaluable and essential, but they only address a limited dimension of human experience. There's much more (like story) that we need to embrace as UX practictioners. And we'd better start doing it soon because the looming alternative is failure. As Pink reminds us, "minimizing the importance of story places you in professional and personal peril."

Baskin-Robbins was successful not because it applied "modern and scientific" mass marketing techniques, but because it offered a wholly human experience. It told an authentic story that people wanted to believe—and framed that story according to the prevailing worldview. More important, it told that story in everything it did from flavors to store designs to colors to training materials. It succeeded because its story and UX were as one. I think that's a great object lesson for UXCentricity.


Blogger Dan McGowan said...

So, you said this -

Do you see what's lurking behind this? We're taking what is innately human and mysterious—experience—and acting as if we can master it with principles and practices.

Which I found fascinating! I am about to take it out of context and this may not belong on this particular blog - but that above sentence is, in my mind, one of the main reasons why "church" does not seem to work, nor impact, lots of people today... I won't go on, you know what I'm talking about.

I enjoyed reading the BR story. Time for you to write a BOOK!!

7:14 PM  

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