Plotting a story is a form of UXD

Vee Must Have Order!

Every time I take the Myers Briggs Personality Test, I rate as an INTJ - which means I look for patterns, and try to make sense of the world as a series of interrelated layers of logic. While building this website and reviewing all my old projects, I realized that I had been specializing in 'user experience design' even before there was a name for such a thing.

Storytelling requires layers—of theme, of logic, and of character development in relation to the setting, history, and plot—without these interrelated layers of growth and change, the details, no matter how clever, fall flat. Without logic to your website navigation (I'm looking at you, Microsoft products) frustration can bump a user right off of your site. Unless they really need what you're selling, without a pleasant user experience, they'll find another site that does what you do, only better, and using tools and icons that are friendlier.

Laziness, Optimized

Steve Krug said it best in his book, 'Don't Make Me Think'. Don't make your audience have to try and figure out the navigation on your website or app, and don't invent new ways for them to have to think.

The writer and UXD's job is to make the interface between story or website and its audience as seamless as possible. If in your prose you use a word that has multiple meanings, your sentence could be misinterpreted, making your reader have to think about it, and jerk them out of the storytelling flow. You will have just failed as a storyteller. Similarly, you could be proud as hell of the icon you designed for "share this", but if that icon is not universally recognized as such, you'll make your audience worry about the meaning behind the button they're about to press, and probably won't press it. Stopping to think will disrupt their user experience.

"You turn the handle the way it goes, not the way it ought to go." - Confucius

Gamification & Simplification

The more fun a website or app is, the more readily tolerated a glitchy interface is by its users, but when fun features ("delighters") are made part of a well-designed application, the enjoyment of the user increases dramatically. 'Gamification' of a website, however can be a double-edged sword. From one user's perspective, they may look forward to involving themselves in another profile-building site, or amusing themselves with earning points for coupons or another means of expressing themselves through some variation of social media, but how long will you keep them entertained if your site or app is not delivering regular, useful functionality? Don't let the game be more important than your basic funtion.

You could have the greatest idea for a science fiction story, with the coolest gadgetry and worldbuilding, but if your prose is broken and awkward, chances are, only the devoted fans of your particular genre will bother to fight through sloppy storytelling. The same formula applies to your prose.

"If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it." - Elmore Leonard

Don't make the reader/user aware of the software, or force them to focus on your words. You are trying to deliver the story/experience as invisibly as possible. Don't make anyone jump through hoops, no matter how fun you think it may be. In the world of storytelling, sometimes it's more fun for the writer to invent intricate details of a world, or convoluted plot devices, or roundabout ways to get to the punch of a scene. Keep it simple. Don't make them think. Or, more specifically in the case of writing, don't tell them how to think.

Huff Some Sharpies

Before you even look at that prototyping software or begin to type out a scene, sketch it out. Sketch out ten layouts/plots, then sketch out ten more, pushing the extremes of the absurd. Aim for insanity, and you might find some happy accidents. I'm convinced the more sharpie fumes you breathe in, the less brain cells you'll have to work with, and by nature, the simpler your plots or layouts will become. Be untidy. Find your own method of organized insanity. Get a little John Nash in your process.

"Write drunk, edit sober." - Ernest Hemingway

Test It Out

Whether it's a working manuscript or a working prototype, you need some honest people to give you feedback. In the case of a website or app, it is imperative that you have some method of testing your prototype interface before you have one line of code written. Does it work? Does it confuse anyone? Why? What would they prefer? And as far as that novel you've been working on for six years? It's only a prototype, too. How well will it still work if you cut out a subplot? A major character? If you don't have the stomach for butchering your own work, once you publish, readers will be lining up to do the butchering for you. You have to be honest with yourself, and not allow yourself to get too proud of yourself. Murder some darlings, and huff some more Sharpies if need be. Do what you have to to make the reader/user experience as smooth as possible.

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