Experience Themes: An Element of Story Applied to Design
Fiction writers weave stories around themes. Musicians create thematic concept albums. Even graphic designers envision around themes. So, why not interaction designers?
As designers we too often neglect to define a common vision, or coordinating force, behind the scope of what we’re designing, making or building. Without some means of unifying our efforts we can easily end up with a product or service that falls short of its potential for delivering an optimal user experience. One path to holistic coordination is to employ the concept of themes as used by fiction writers and filmmakers. For storytellers, themes are used as a compass, a means of examining every element in the story for its possible implication with regard to theme. For readers, themes offer a cognitive and emotional response to the story that is often much deeper and more memorable than details of plot. In experience design, themes can be used to pattern and unify product solutions as well as a means of unifying teams, assisting in the work of defining strategy and helping to design for the intangible pleasure, emotion and meaning in experience. By aiming to capture the value and focus of the experience we intend to deliver to users, themes guide us in the design process and, by extension, strengthen the impact and meaning of that experience.
Cindy Chastain, user experience designer and screenwriter, has been exploring ways to engage an audience through storytelling, teaching, writing and design for over twelve years. She is currently the Director of User Experience for Interactive Partners, a New York-based agency specializing in entertainment and media websites. Most recently, she has lead projects for clients such as BBC Worldwide, Showtime, Fuse, Madison Square Garden, Coca-Cola and Unilever. She holds an MFA in screenwriting from Columbia University in New York and earned a BS in Radio, TV, Film from Northwestern University. In addition to moonlighting as a filmmaker and screenwriter, she is in the process of researching a book that explores how storytelling techniques can be used as a framework for design.