Intro to user stories

User stories are the first step in documenting requirements. It’s tempting to jump directly into thinking about how the new feature or functionality fits with your existing product and proposing UI solutions. However, at this stage, you need to resist temptation and stay focused on your users.

User stories are about what matters to the user, about what the user wants to accomplish. They are the WHAT. Until you’ve clearly, specifically, and unambiguously defined what the user wants from the user’s perspective,  it’s too soon to tackle the HOW.

Pop quiz! Which one is a better user story?

User story 1: The user can change his password by clicking on the forgot-password link on the homepage, answering the security questions, and clicking on a verification link from an e-mail we send him.

User story 2: The user can easily change his password.

The thing is, User story 1 isn’t actually a user story. It’s too complicated, too solution-focused, too us-focused. Users don’t care how your system works, what works best with the features and functionality you already have, or anything else about YOU. That’s why it’s so important that you take the time in this first stage to craft user stories that about the user. You’ll have plenty of time in later stages to hammer out the HOW and design elegant integration with your existing product. During the hammering and design stages, you can refer back to the user stories as a reality check.

Your user wants to do X. How well does what you’re designing make that possible, easy, and – dare we dream – delightful?

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3 Responses to Intro to user stories

  1. Hey Amanda,

    Great post. I’m a huge fan of user stories. My clients often don’t have the budget for all-out user research, so I like to start with lo-fi personas (or audience segments) and then move into user stories. Some of the best practices I’ve uncovered:
    – Map them to segment or persona. (I like to use a speadsheet with Personas across the X and user stories down the why.
    – Use the structure, “I want to X so that Y.” Often times, the Y is more important than the X.

    Have you seen an approach like this one before?

  2. I saw the first approach either in a presentation you gave or in your portfolio. Does that count? 🙂

    The second approach was the core message of that presentation at ProductCamp where he talked about innovating by focusing on what customers want to accomplish, not on what they say they want from us. To use the Model T example, the X would be a faster horse, the Y would be to get from A to B faster.

    One of the best things about user stories is that they don’t limit designers and developers to a particular solution. It’s hard to produce anything exceptional in a pigeonhole.

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