Why We Write User Stories

User stories are a crucial part of the discovery process with every new client we work with. The goal is to thoroughly understand who you're trying to reach and what you’re offering. From there we build exactly the features you need to solve your own clients’ problems and leave out anything that doesn’t explicitly further those objectives.

What is a User Story?

A user story is a way to conceptualize who you expect to visit your website or application, what they’re going to want to do and how they’re going to do it. An extension of your ideal client personas, a user story uses an example of a real person with real needs and goals to help you better understand the functionality your project requires.

User stories aren’t limited to software development. They can be invaluable tools for any business to better understand what their clients need and how to provide it. A grocer has to think about how customers physically move through their store and where to stock inventory. Any time we have to frame a problem or process in terms of how an actual person is going to step through it or what they’re trying to get out of it, we're talking in user stories.

A simple formula for writing user stories that has become popular is this:

Why Are User Stories Helpful?

While it’s important to understand the primary objective of your website or piece of software, it’s very likely there will be a number of secondary objectives, intended to draw in different people who need to accomplish different things.

Generating user stories is an important early step in the planning process because your users directly inform the list of required features for your build. There’s no guessing, no making assumptions about what your clients and customers might want or need. We determine exactly who those people are, and we build for them. Because no matter how complex the process or how fancy the tech stack, at the end of the day this is about connecting with real people.

And as it allows you to connect more deeply with your clients, it allows us to collaborate more deeply with you and make full use of your subject matter expertise. Nobody knows your audience better than you, and working together to create a clear picture of your site requirements takes us out of the technical code realm and puts us in the real world, with real people interacting with your products and services.

Finally, a solid collection of user stories creates a framework for testing. When you know the who, the what and the why, it’s easy to determine whether a specific objective is met. It helps you identify sticking points and solve them before real customers and clients encounter them.

One of our favourite methods for testing features before they’re shipped is to assign different user stories to our colleagues and have them navigate the site according to their user’s goal. These tests very quickly reveal any roadblocks in the user flows we’ve created.

User Stories in Action

The Vancouver Art Gallery website is the perfect example of the importance of user stories to capture the full range of user needs and ensure those needs are accounted for in both the information architecture and the design process.

Within the broader goal of promoting art not only in Vancouver but across the province and the country as well, the gallery invests heavily in education, fundraising and sales. Visitors to the website will find details on exhibitions - past, present and future. They’ll find upcoming lectures and links to the shop to buy tickets. They’ll find descriptions of weekly kids programming, information on booking school trips and group tours.

The collection of user stories included high school teachers in charge of field trips, tourists looking for gallery hours, wedding planners looking for a venue, potential donors hoping to support the new building project and art collectors in search of new pieces by local artists.

The answer to so much varied content and so many potential users was a layout of clearly defined, image-heavy cards with the different streams of content distinguished by a system of categories and labels and intuitive menus.

This project also makes it clear that understanding the diversity of users on your site doesn’t mean sacrificing cohesion across the design or a clear brand voice.

One of the guiding principles for this redesign project was to keep it art-forward at all times. This informed the structure of both the cards and the page templates used across the site by ensuring high-quality, never-cropped images of art were always the focus.

Done right, user stories not only help you get to know your users. They also give you the chance to ensure that every part of your user experience aligns with your voice and messaging. Strong user stories lead to great user experiences and happy (read: repeat) customers.

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