As designers, we all want to provide the best possible experience to our customers and users. We want to ensure there are absolutely no shortcomings and the user's journey through the product is absolutely seamless.
But more often than not, we find it tough to empathize with every moment of a user's journey. And it becomes even tougher for other members of the team who do not interact with the users regularly. How do you ensure everyone on the team can understand what the user is experiencing?
The answer to that question is 'Storyboarding'.
When Airbnb's CEO Brian Chesky read Walt Disney’s biography, he discovered a technique of storyboarding invented by Disney and his animators to create Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.
In storyboarding, instead of describing the plot with words, animators would draw sequential scenes for a new cartoon and pin them to the walls of their office. The technique soon became the standard for mapping out new cartoons, and quickly translated into other areas of Walt Disney's business.
So how did Chesky use storyboarding to design Airbnb's customer experience?
It started with a list of the emotional moments that comprise the end-to-end Airbnb experience, which quickly evolved into stories shared around the company. Later, Airbnb hired an animator from Disney’s Pixar to illustrate the storyboards of the customer experience.
“When you have to storyboard something, the more realistic it is, the more decisions you have to make,” Chesky says. “Like are these hosts men or women? Are they young, are they old? Where do they live? The city or the countryside? Why are they hosting? Are they nervous? It’s not that they show up to the house. They show up at the house, how many bags do they have? How are they feeling? Are they tired? At that point, you start designing for stuff for a very particular use case.”
One of the first insights the team gained from thinking about their customers in narrative terms is that their service isn’t a website. It was the Airbnb mobile app instead.
Most of the Airbnb experience happens offline in and around the homes. And they used this knowledge to design experiences around the app, creating new features that were supported on the app and mobile web in place of only the web.
“As opposed to working out of a spreadsheet or a Google Doc, this is us creating characters and starting to understand the personality of these characters,” Brain Chesky about the process that led to the company’s focus on the mobile app.
To increase empathy towards the user, we need to collectively stop looking at users as a metric or another row in the spreadsheet. We need to look at them as a part of a story. It starts from thinking about what the user feels, what he or she is thinking. And that is a completely different experience from looking at them on a spreadsheet.
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