There's an interesting question on Quora right now:

If you had to pick between an amazing product designer or an amazing engineer to build a new company around, which would you pick and why?

This question reflects a painful problem that is common at both small startups and large corporate organizations. Far too often, teams focus on execution before defining the product opportunity and unique value proposition. The result is a familiar set of symptoms including scope creep, missed deadlines, overspent budgets, frustrated teams and, ultimately, confused users. The root cause of these symptoms is the fact that execution focuses on the how and what of a product. But in a world where consumers are inundated with choices, products that want to be noticed and adopted must be rooted in the why.

A product is more than an idea, it's more than a website, and it's more than a transaction or list of functionalities. A product should provide an experience or service that adds value to someone's life through fulfilling a need or satisfying a desire. The ultimate question then becomes: who identifies that value? After the executive or stakeholder identifies the initial idea, who in the organization ensures that the product and experience deliver value to the user? Maybe it isn't the product manager, marketer, technologist, or designer; perhaps what we need is a new role: the product storyteller.

Who are the product storytellers? Part matchmaker, marketer, technologist, and artist, the product storytellers ask questions, find answers, and figure out how to distill a vision or idea into a product story. They develop a plot, identify the people, and shape the product around the specific values it should offer consumers. Product storytellers think about the whole, and they see the big picture. But they also can go deep because they understand that the product's true value lies in the details of its interactions and every touchpoint that a consumer has with it.

The first goal of a product storyteller is to facilitate collaboration and co-creation. Today, many companies have their product and marketing groups disconnected from each other. Marketing decisions are often made at the executive level—much higher than where product decisions are made. The result is that marketing tells one story, and the product tells a different story. In the end, consumers are left to put together the conflicting messages and try to determine why they should engage with the product. A product storyteller should be positioned in the company to help break down the walls between all groups, facilitate the development of a single story, foster collaboration between groups, and ensure that every interaction a consumer has with a product or brand maps back to that story.

Not only do product storytellers identify the intended product value, they also share and evangelize this story throughout their organizations. This is important because it ensures that the entire team understands the why behind what they are doing. A common understanding of the product story allows a team to incubate a shared vision. This vision turns into passion, and people with both passion and vision are more likely to produce products that others want to use. Without a firm understanding of the why, the team risks becoming task focused, losing sight of the big picture, and deflating any sense of empowerment or excitement that once existed. When this happens, consumers and the team feel the effects. Consumers experience a disconnected product and message and, as a result, don't have a clear perception of its value. Organizations and teams feel the effects through slow, little, or no product traction with consumers.

If one of the primary factors in consumer arousal, interest, and adoption of new products is the ability of the product to answer the question, "Why would I use this?" then why do so many teams either let execution come before defining the product value or allow multiple groups to do this independently? The answer is simple: the process of identifying a product opportunity and value statement is not easy and the skillset required is still coming of age.

In his book, A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule The Future, Daniel Pink explains that we're in the "Conceptual Age" and that skills that were revered in the Industrial Age and Information Age are not as integral to where we are as a society today. Pink writes:

We've progressed from a society of farmers to a society of factory workers to a society of knowledge workers. And now we're progressing yet again—to a society of creators and empathizers, of pattern recognizers and meaning makers. We've moved from an economy built on people's backs to an economy built on people's left-brains to what is emerging today: an economy and society built more and more on people's right-brains.

Who are the right-brain thinkers? Through years of research, Pink has identified six aptitudes for the Conceptual Age: design, story, symphony, empathy, play, and meaning. Most relevant to us is the aptitude of story. Crafting stories is not about assembling facts. Instead, according to Pink, people who understand story have "the ability to place these facts in context and to deliver them with emotional impact." The impact to story in business is that, "like design, it is becoming a key way for individuals and entrepreneurs to distinguish their goods and services in a crowded marketplace." If you want your product to be heard by consumers, it must be rooted in a story that consumers can emotionally connect with.

The challenge today is that we face a shortage of storytellers because our current organizational structures and cultures are not optimized for the activities involved in storytelling. First, as I've already discussed, ownership of product value is not clearly defined and instead is distributed across or shared between teams. The result is a series of communication disconnects that produce a product experience and message that is not in line with the original vision—like a childhood game of "Telephone." But the second, and more interesting, reason for the shortage of storytellers is that the individuals who may have the skills to develop the story are not in the right environments.

Marty Cagan, a product management and product strategy expert, addresses this issue in his book Inspired: How To Create Products That Customers Love. Cagan notes that there are two key responsibilities of the product manager: "assess product opportunities, and define the product to be built." However, he asserts that product managers often become "consumed in the details and pressures of producing detailed specs rather than looking at the market opportunity and discovering a winning strategy and roadmap." The reason for this is that product management is often placed within the engineering organization. Ultimately, an engineering organization is focused on execution and that culture is not optimized for the process of discovery, curiosity, and play, all of which are fundamental to those who engage in storytelling.

Product storytellers should be at the intersection of product, marketing, and technology to help ensure that what's being created clearly maps back to a product story that identifies the plot, people, and perceived value to the consumer. Before a technologist writes a line of code, or a marketer writes a line of copy, or a designer creates a single wireframe or design, you have to establish the story that your product is going to tell.

The role of a product storyteller is not meant to take away from the founder, executive, marketer, designer, or technologist. As well, the development of product strategy and vision shouldn't be contained in a silo belonging to the product storyteller. But someone does need to own it. Now more than ever, cross-role collaboration is critical to product conception, incubation, and development. The product storyteller synthesizes rather than analyzes, sees the big picture rather than becoming stuck in the details, and ensures that all product interactions and touchpoints form a cohesive and value-based consumer experience.

So whether you are at a small start up or a large organization, whether you are a founder, executive, technologist, designer, manager, or marketer, ask yourself this: do you know your product's story? And perhaps more importantly, who creates your product story?


Sarah - Your article about stories is right on in so many ways.

I very recently finished a project in which I re-designed a mobile app for a trucking firm (yes, a trucking firm :^) the functional core of which is to give auto-sipping truckers the ability to log many different types, arrangements, and locations of damages before loading a vehicle, thus protecting themselves from unwarranted suits or complaints, the brokerage from the same, and the customer from misperceptions about the level shipping service performed at auto delivery. I expanded the damage-related feature-set of this core part of the application by 10.  This design expansion accommodated the level of damage complexity the truckers were actually seeing.

I'm thinking through your article based on my experience of designing this app, and my response is yes AND.

I wrote (9) different interrelated stories for the app. Rather, these stories arose out of the experience of user researching the real needs of the users (in this case, the super-users who work extremely closely with the truckers: they intimately know how truckers use the app and need to use the app, and are often involved either with coaching or correcting or both the truckers).  Let me also say that before becoming a UX designer, I worked as a BA for several years.  I see the interconnection between use cases and Agile stories. I think it may be a fairly short hop to the kinds of storytelling you are describing - at least, I perceive some kind of connection - and I do actively and regularly "exploit" the "conceptual" nature of use casing and UX design/wireframing.

But here's what I'd really like to say.  Sometimes - and I think this was one of those times - a designer or storyteller (or both - and that would be me here) does not see the stories immediately.  In this case, the stories arose organically out of the user research.  And I would say, they even arose later than that - after I had designed wireframes.

I was working with what we'll just refer to as an irascible CEO stakeholder.  For reasons we don't need to go into here, he needed everything to be simple.  I realized I couldn't shortcut the wireframes.  That I would need to unpack each of the wireframes frame by frame so he could understand the realistic trucking story the emerging design was addressing.  I further realized I needed to arrange the wireframes by stories to effectively tell the story.  I found I immediately had more buy-in with those super-users with whom I was conducting user research when I did. 

I also found that the arrangement of wireframes into stories provided me with a near seamless framework from which to develop a mobile prototype and usability test users.  The users just "got it."

Thank you!

- Michael Womack

Interesting article. Product storytellers sounds similar to the Product Owner. I think the Product Owner will have to own the "vision" and "story" of the product.

Great article!

Today I woke up thinking our team needs a manifesto, and now I know why.

Manifestos are backdrop stories.

Hope I can get the team on board for this!

Great article!

Today I woke up with the idea of writing a manifesto with my team. Something that'd summarize our vision for our company and product. But I couldn't explain why it is important to have this backdrop story, but now I do.

Hope I can get them on board!



This is an awesome article. I agree with nearly all of it.

The one exception is the stereotype about engineers that you often hear from non-engineers:
i.e. engineers are "focused on execution and that culture is not optimized for the process of discovery, curiosity, and play, all of which are fundamental to those who engage in storytelling".

I must admit, as an engineer, that there is a lot of evidence to support this stereotype.
A great many engineers don't really care about the customer at all.
They care only about the challenge of the engineering problem.
These are NOT the people that you want as your story tellers.

But this is not a problem that is specific to the engineering profession.
Many companies are filled with people who care primarily about their own interests and nothing at all for the customer.
As an engineer, I prefer working with UX designers to other engineers because UX designers tend to actually care about the customer.

However, in a technology company, it is foolish to put someone in charge who does not understand the technology.
Many UX designers are horrible because they don't even understand the technology that their designs are implemented in.
They have no conception of what is and is not possible or what will be possible in the near future.

But again, this is a stereotype.
UX designers who DO take the time to learn the technology stand out as significantly better than those who do not.
But again, the reason they take the time to learn the technology is that they care more about the customer,
they want to offer the best UX design possible and that *requires* them to understand the technology they are designing for.

Re: engineers ...
Elon Musk is an engineer who told a great story and built a great company.
Larry Page is an engineer who told a great story and built a great company.
Sergey Brin is an engineer who told a great story and built a great company.
Bill Gates is an engineer who told a great story and built a great company.

The list goes on.
How many UX designers can you name that have accomplished what these engineers have accomplished?


Excellent article, as well as very well written. I took the wisdom in your mssg as golden. I am an entreprenuer in consumer internet product development and apps, and do a fair bit of marketing, product design, testing, etc myself, or with small groups (2-3 people), so I could realy relate when reading this post, and will keep this viewpoint in mind in any future projects! Actualy, I'm in the middle of one now..  :)


Good stuff!

Maybe there's another solution instead of bringing in another resource. Maybe it's more about having the right culture and getting all the team members aligned to serve the customers. This type of customer oriented thinking exists from thousands of years ago. And if the culture it's right then everyone can start their day with the question: how can I add more value? Even if they are engineers, designers, marketers, managers.

The notion of storytellers is very nice but it doesn't answer the question - should you build around a great engineer or a great designer? I think this is probably because you have recognised that if you have to ask this question then you are thinking about the wrong two people. A truly great engineer is also a great designer and a truly great designer is also a great engineer. You can't be one without also being the other.


In the world of UX, a great designer will also be someone who fully understands what is going on in the environment that the user is trying to experience. You can't, for example, design a great web app without understanding how great web apps are put together. No you don't have to be able to build it yourself but you must understand it.


Fortunately there are probably more good UX designers who understand what makes a great system work than there are coders who understand what makes a great UX.

Great insights and ideas. I just retired from General Mills and know the drill you describe in your intro. I'm starting a consulting business to help business leaders to develop compelling health communications by connecting the dots between the emotional and scientific sides of health. Storytelling and story listening are some of the ways to unearth and convey the emotions.
I'll be referencing this great article as an example of storytelling for brand innovation in my blog at

Sarah, thanks for the depth of your insight and assessment of this critical issue. I would add that another level of input and communication comes from those individuals who have direct contact with customers and potential customers. Agreement on a stimulating, reliable story description and key points, positions organizations to not only speak with one voice, but to attempt a genuine focus on customer issues rather than product/service components. Too often potential customers tune out hearing representatives at any level drone on with their offering. More power to those organizations who embrace the belief in a key storyteller who leads the effort to create excitement and consistency.

Professional Storyteller. Sounds like an exciting career! It's nice to see someone is spouting the benefits of listening to the needs of end users with the end goal of *gasp* delivering what end users need and want, and not what project sponsors or detached stakeholders or purse stringers think is right.


Demographics aside. @saradody YOU ROCK!

Finally, what I've attempted to explain, written beautifully.

I will reach out to you personally, visionary -> storyboard->mapping entire product from stage one conception ->build spand, cosumer engagement and marketing philosophy.

Companies horribly lack this.
Their is not even a job title for this.

I state this "design,develop, and deploy on massive scale by integration of markets, harnessing inner connectivity by brand development/cognitive approaches = brand influence, emotional connection. TrendAhead if you will.

Link to my sound cloud.
You will find, what I do to be just this and more.
Wait to you see what it is I'm doing.

Seth M. Kontny
#AmericanEntrepreneur lol.

Hi Andrew. Yes, 1000% agree. I don't think that you can really be a great storyteller without also being a great listener. One thing that makes someone a great storyteller, is that they know their audience. You can't know your audience unless you've been quietly listening to and understanding them. A great example of how storytellers have mastered the art of listening is the folks at Pixar. I can't find the article, but I remember reading once how when doing research (which you could call "listening") they attached a camera to some kind of pole and then walked around with the pole close to the ground, putting it in the grass, bushes, etc, to get the perspective that a bug would have in real life. So brilliant. I'm always thinking of how I can do things like that the understand a new perspective.

Hi Marioo! It sounds like you're trying to find a new position and that you're not being given a chance. The advice that I would give anyone who wants to work in user experience, is to become an expert communicator and use your "portfolio" as an way to show off these skills. By portfolio, I don't just mean the screenshots of projects you've worked on. Today, your "portfolio" is really the total sum of all the interactions that you have online ... your Twitter, LinkedIn, blog, personal website, portfolio examples, etc etc. It's hard to give any more specific advice because I don't know what your current job situation is. But, if for example you're noticing a trend where people are saying that you don't have enough experience in subject "x" then maybe you should start blogging about that topic more. Just because past jobs haven't given way to a certain area of experience, you can still show that you have knowledge of that outside of a "job". Hope that helps!

Sarah: This is a great article that gets to the heart of the question of how to communicate a product or service's ability to communicate a value proposition. One thing I see missing is any mention of how a copywriter or technical writer can solve the problem. I've worked in both roles, collaborating closely with product design and UX. An effective writer will understand the audience, what benefits the offering can bring them, and get this all across effectively. What works best is including the writer in the early stages of discussions to provide the necessary background, rather than rushing the copy out the door to meet a deadline. It's not a designer or an engineer who is right for this role; it's a writer who knows how to listen and get the story across to customers.

I found myself really empathic to this article, because as many have commented before I can identify myself as the technologist+marketer+right-brainer+artist+curious about the customer needs and most of all passionate .... but while I was reading I found the following line "But the second, and more interesting, reason for the shortage of storytellers is that the individuals who may have the skills to develop the story are not in the right environments." And I totally agree, but the question here is how all of us who feel that passion and have most of the skills for storytelling achieve to be in the "right environment". I mean in my specific situation I recently graduated from Computer Science but during my career I've been developing skills in creativity/innovation/UX/storytelling because is that really fulfills me about technology. But when I try to look for a job position for UX/product development/Storytelling people like me get dumped because we do not have the experience businesses think they need without even trying to look at our portfolio or telling them our experience labeling us as "technicians" and no more.

Sarah, the product storyteller whom you describe wears many hats. One more hat to add might be "listener." Listening to consumer insights, observing how users are currently dealing with the problem, and how they might be better served. The best storytellers usually are great storylisteners, don't you think?

Andrew Nemiccolo
Seven Story Learning

Vaishnav - thanks so much for your comment. You're right, in software use cases have been used for a long time to help everyone be on the same page about "what" (as a user, I'd like to ....) and the "why" (so that ....). What I'm trying to convey with this idea is that use of stories and that way of thinking (why, why, why) be adopted by everyone on the team. Sometimes, I think it can be helpful to compare this concept to writing an essay. I'm proposing that through a product story, we develop a thesis for the project so that everyone collaborating can make sure their paragraphs and sentences map back to that overall thesis. I think the only caution I have with the use cases in software is that we're careful to always map them back to "real" people. Often times, it's easy to develop a vision of what we're doing through a specific lens - the technology we know, our own personal preferences, what competitors are doing. A product story should help keep that lens focused on the first and foremost the real human being who will be using your product, the environment they'll be using it in, and the purpose for which they're using it. Hope that helps!

Very interesting article. I wanted to know what is the major difference between writing a use case for the software dev/design and writing a story? Because in software world people are used to writing use cases and making sure the product is valuable in all these cases.

This was very insightful article. I work with small biz entrepreneurs and lawyers and do find visuals really help them. Certainly I can't argue with you story telling helps with all aspects of sales and marketing.

Wow.....I just felt so so very good about this post. I completely agree with you, this is exactly what I feel and while reading this post it was almost like you have put my feelings in words so succinctly...One of the reasons why I could connect to this post so much is because I've worked in various functions and I always felt I'm more like a technologist + Product Guy + Strategist + Marketeer + Product Storyteller !

Storytelling is away to promote people, products, and to market products and services. I had never thought of storytelling in that genre before. Quite interesting to say the least, it would make products and services remarkably more appealing.

As technology gets more complex, it is able to meet our needs at a more basic level. That is why for instance, a 2 year old can use an Ipad very easily. (Saw a Chimpanzee using one on CNN lately). One of the most important jobs of the product storyteller is to make sure the complexity of her product is focused on solving a very basic or simple human need. Nice article.

Thanks for this article. Its the first one that actually explains what I am, that is my title.

Thanks for sharing this Sarah.
I work for a big computer company and do exactly what you describe in your article...i.e. I "tell stories" and try to "link the dots" for my organization. Unfortunately, just like you've described, being on the wrong end of the organization (product design), delivering a consistent story our customer can resonate with is hard.
Many times, I get into a "the wrong place at the wrong time" situation, since every department in the organization has different matrix to measure success.
At least, your article reassures me that there are like minded people out there:)

Nice, yet, there are way too many stories, too many products. We want less stories and products, but more stories created by our lives.
Agree with you, though if there is such a need to create a product story, then we end up with endless useless stories around us that have no meaning.
Products should instead have no story because they fulfill our lives so well that pass unnoticed. Do you talk about and tell others the story a flower, a tree, the sky... tells you? They are visible and hidden, they don't need to shout or appear to have a special identity. They ARE. They fulfill. But they don't impose.

Hello Sarah,

Thanks for this thoughtful post! I can assure you, I will re-read this several times. Print. Ponder. Share. You brilliantly framed up some experiences I have encountered recently. I am a big supporter of early stage technology and this is a significant issue. As the field gets more crowded with whiz bang-this and thats, what you've discussed here, will become even more significant as brands try to stand out in a crowded field!

Very thoughtful comments about a thought-provoking article.

It's fair to say that an engineer would benefit from knowing what is out there. Marketers and agencies tend to know what is out there, so bringing communications people and engineers and inventors and idea people together is smart.

In that regard, I find Zag, BBH's VC/idea entity pretty compelling. It's a collaboration of good ideas for products and services, strong thinking on unmet needs and human insights and some money to make things happen.

Hi Sarah, thanks for a thought provoking piece. So thought provoking I wrote about it at a little length on our design blog:

But in a nutshell, i am not sure this is a big sea change. The principles of story telling have been around a while, but as clients ask for more and more integrated campaigns so agencies are stepping in to offer a new way of managing the process - this bit is, I think new news. Check out marketing agency 101 and Aesop in the UK...

Great article, sums up a lot of thoughts and ideas I've had during the last five years working as a product designer in a large global company, always looking for, or struggling for backing to create, a common goal. A Why!

Well penned

Great post. The first thing that comes to mind is that Product Storytellers (from an agency perspective) are actually planners - Experience Planners to be exact. These are the individuals that provide the rational, customer journeys, and insights that help designers and engineers build a meaningful product (or what I typically refer to as a meaningful experience).

Yeah...good article and totally agree with the message, but what you are describing is EXACTLY what a good product manager does (or should do).

I just had the good fortune to speak to Sarah a few minutes ago to talk about this article. I wanted to post up a few salient points from our conversation, and add to this thread.

Thanks for posting this up Sarah!

When I teach storytelling at Stanford or mentor startups at Stanford or at 500 Startups or elsewhere, I always emphasize that it is important to separate the story from the telling of that story. Sean Parker may be a very good communicator and is gifted at telling. Zuckerberg build the product and, in that sense, he's the author of the story itself. Perhaps Zuckerberg, 5 years ago, wasn't as good as telling the story as Parker was. Well, that's great they found each other. In the end, you need both skills. They can be in the same person (ala Andrew Stanton, who wrote, directed, and pitched Finding Nemo brilliantly) or they can be in two people, perhaps like Zuckerberg and Parker 5 years ago.

Now, I don't know the details of how Facebook was in those days, but I have worked with teams at Pixar (in my 20 years at the studio) where the writer of the story and the teller of the story were the same person, and other teams where they were different people. Both can work. It's just important that both roles be fulfilled.

I completely agree with the comments up above that if a startup doesn't have it's key story writer and story teller in its founding team, it's got a real problem. You really cannot outsource that. Well, maybe you can for a single, individual product. But you can't for anything with longevity. The long tern connection and investment in that story, that idea, that reason to exist, is a very powerful thing from a motivational, organizational, management, and most importantly, quality of experience perspective.

Said another way, if nobody on a founding team has a clue about why you're doing what you're doing, that's not a good sign.

But, in the good case, if you have those skills in your team, and if you succeed at keeping true to that story all the way to release, then users will be able to sit back and enjoy the experience of being in the hands of a great storyteller, telling them a well-told story. Which is such a great place to be.

For those who haven't experienced the joy that is @uber (in SF and NY now), give that a try. Being driven across town has never been a more magical, amazing, wonderful experience. Ever.

Now that is a startup with a brilliant story, told to near perfection. Seriously. Give then a try and you'll see for yourself!

If you haven't, read "Story" by Robert McKee. You'll have to get past his lecture-like writing style, but it's a great book on this subject and well worth a few bucks and a few late nights to get through it.

Hi V S Pandyaram

Yes you're totally right. The need to evangelize the story internally is critical. The closer you are to the product the easier it is to quickly shift focus away from value and the story. Then, so much energy is put into how the product works and what its specific functionality is - when a lot of times, that functionality doesn't contribute back to the originally intended value.


I totally agree with the premise of having a product storyteller. It is an imperative part of the whole product solution. But what if the product storyteller was the audience? That's powerful! I just touch this subject in an article "Where is the WOW of Social Media?" at . There is a link within the article to one of the best storytellers I have come across in recent times - Sarah Kay. See what she has to say ... you won't be disappointed and there is much to learn from her.

Social Steve

An inspiring, heartfelt tribute to the storyteller in all of us. But the fact is, the best stories are told about people and other living things, not about rocks or products.

We might say with Magritte that "Ceci n'est pas une pipe" -- "This is not a pipe" -- but that's about as entertaining a story as a product requires. It doesn't make the product smarter or juicier.

Telling stories about living things, on the other hand (including people) induces change, a dynamic tension between what is and what might be that actually alters the force field of reality.

We should spend more time telling stories about people and let the products fall where they may. The more we know about ourselves, about our teams and their capabilities, the better products (and services) we will produce, inherently. The more we focus on products, the staler our stories become.

"So didja hear the one about the guy who gets to work and...?" Your mind has now awakened more than if I pointed out a tennis shoe.

If the CEO or Founder or at least one of the CoFounders is not the "product storyteller," the venture is in trouble.

You can't hire someone for this, it needs to be ingrained into the core ethos at the top level. While I may not be overly fond of the direction APPLE has taken, they are massively successful, largely because they have the best product storyteller in the business at the helm.

Wonder if these guys are great friends with the marketers in the same company. But surely the stories they tell will keep the product designers going when the going gets tough. Still everyone should not stop using the product and feedback their angst to these story tellers who can then weave these into nice-to-read diary entries. The stories, regardless of how they are related, narrative or otherwise, can be like how a bible speaks the word of god to us every morning, for employees about the vision or common goal of their daily, sometimes painstaking endeavours. Talking about motivation. Great stuff Sarah!

Isn't this what Steve Jobs has done all his life? The product storyteller can only be the leader or visionary who drives the project - if he's not, or does not have the backing of the Boss Man ( Ives & Jobs) - marketing , engg, design, etc will all chase their own agenda - because there is no more political act in any organization than defining what the product should be. In Apple's case the oconic stature and success of the storyteller has condemned his company to die with him (IMHO)

Great post that hiring firms/people must read. Couldn't agree more with the PM comments -> if a PM is micromanaging the project then he/she really isn't a PM. A good PM needs to allow the team to be accountable and empowered. Too many people don't associate big picture people as good PMs (no need to focus on the details when that is other's jobs).
To the earlier comment, I don't think Zuck was the greatest storyteller but, luckily he had one of the best storytellers around in Sean Parker.

Excellent article Sarah. Like gary said and you agreed, it is more than telling story - evangelizing internally and evoking collaborative zeal. Its time to coin new word describing all these features. "story teller" is too narrow in its current usage. Thanks again for the great post.

Hi dkzody

I love how you said "there are stories they can pass on to others". In a world of information overload, more options than we know what to do with, and ever shortening attention spans, I think that stories become even more critical. Stories help capture messages that can live on - and ideally rise above the craziness of our lives and exchanges of information.


Hi Jeannie!

I've been wondering if we need to play with the idea of focusing on customer experience vs. user experience. When you use the term user experience, people think about the actual product (if it is web based for example) and want to focus on the details of functionality.

However, often times they forget that there are other things that influence the experience, beyond the website, such as the design and tone of emails the customers receive, the way help requests are treated, etc etc. You're completely right though, user experience encompasses both technical and creative aspects that together influence the consumer experience.

Hi Gary,

Yes, I love those elements of surprise, delight, and discovery that you called out. After all, those are key elements of story that can be used to keep people engaged with the journey your story (product) is talking them on. Products simply "do" something aren't enough anymore. Products need to create experiences.

Great ideas!!

Thank you for the excellent post!

One outcome of teams focusing too narrowly on execution is that outcomes are often based on satisfying very pragmatic customer needs. Broader experiential considerations such as surprise, delight, and discovery are often far from mind. A storyteller, by looking more laterally at the challenge, can bring in elements from the Aha! (rationale) and the Ah! (aesthetic) and the Ha ha! (funny and witty)! side of the equation.

All of this goes a long way, not only to jazzing up the collaborative spirit, but also, as you wrote, evangelizing the story internally and with the client.

The next job I get offered, I'm demanding my title be "Chief Product Storyteller". Brilliant!

Such an incredibly fascinating article for anyone interested in design and how we as humans interact with the products around us...I am going back to school this summer for Design Ethnography as i am interested in new ways to avoid "things getting lost in translation" between the consumer's needs and the final product but also within companies and their departments...I love the title of "product storyteller" - sounds so much more fun than being a "Design Ethnographer"...

I have been saying this for years. People will remember a story that resonates with them. This is the way I work for a nonprofit organization--I tell its story in a way that people will remember after they have moved on. There are stories they can pass on to others. Often, I see the story I wrote retold in another place, and it makes me feel good to know that the message is continuing to impact others.

I love this train of thought for a lot of reasons. My focus is on the entire customer experience, and too often the silos within organizations (or departments) really makes looking at this holistically painful. Your point about intersecting the various groups into a story is a great way to look at it. Too often, UX is seen as either "technical" or "creative" but not both - it has to work together to support the business and the customer to really create a great experience. Great post. Thanks!

Hi Brian!! I could not agree more. Brand and product need to co-exist, but more importantly co-create. And it's that element of co-creation that we need to work on more in businesses I think. You're right the inherent value of the consumer experience needs to embedded in every single element of the journey someone takes with your product / company / brand (whatever we'd like to call it!). That's why I think people who make great storytellers have to have some hybrid understanding of marketing / product / and a dash of technology ... but more importantly, the ability to foster collaboration between these groups.

Hi Mark!! In a start up, you're right. Ideally the founder has the vision and strategy. However, I think it's important that there be a secondary owner because as the company grows, sustaining that vision across all activities and teams will become difficult.

Hi Russ!! Wow I love this part of your comment "no need to focus on the details when that is others' jobs"!! The book my Marty Cagan is really fantastic, I highly recommend it. You can also follow him on Twitter @cagan.

Thanks for all the comments and feedback. Really appreciate your thoughts and ideas as we begin to explore the importance of storytelling in products and business.