While some companies are rewriting the playbook on product and service design, too often storytelling begins after the product is finished.

Some of the most important storytelling, however, happens before and while the product is being built. The savviest designers know that telling the story of your customer and their human challenges first is necessary to design a product that fits into an existing human narrative to make it better.

Focusing on Story-Driven Products, Services, and Experiences

"Human" products work with the flow of human behavior rather than against it. Adoption that depends on customers to change their daily narrative to center on a product often stalls. Granted, disruptive technology disrupts behavior. However, many successful innovations are evolutionary, small breakthroughs that yield big results because they don't ask customers to change their story, but they solve common problems by working with the flow of customers' daily routines.

Story-driven approaches ensure that a product's "story" is well understood before it is built and marketed because the customer's world shapes how products/services/experiences are designed. You must figure out how your product fits with—and improves—customers' lives as they are.

That approach is deeper than personas. It's about empathy for customer needs and frustrations, and co-creating with the customer through the experience. Customer stories, then, provide a consistent roadmap for the whole experience including sales, customer service, delivery, and post-purchase follow-up. 

Examples of How the Human Story Inspires Design

Catheters—a major source of hospital infections—exemplify how story-driven design works with the flow of human behavior. A company recently came up with a catheter-cleaning mechanism (with a disinfecting dispenser and cleaning head that operates at the push of a button). The company looked at the entire process of human behavior that lead to contamination (including, for example, nurses putting catheters in their pockets for later use), and built a solution to the entire process. Now, nurses can disinfect right before insertion, without having to disrupt their daily routines. Thus, a small tweak in design that factors in the entire human chain of events can have a huge health impact.

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image of Kathy Klotz-Guest

Kathy Klotz-Guest, founder of Keeping It Human, helps companies turn marketing-speak into compelling human stories. A comic improviser and marketer, she also runs a marketing podcast. Reach her via kathy@keepingithuman.com.

LinkedIn: Kathy Klotz-Guest

Twitter: @kathyklotzguest