Design Methods #37 – Directed Storytelling

Directed storytelling comes from the social science method of narrative inquiry and is a quick and simple way for researchers and designers to gain insights into the real-life experiences of people by using simple and thoughtful questions and prompts to guide and frame a conversation. The approach is based entirely on the stories that people tell, and is means of collecting information on real-life behaviours and contexts where observation or longitudinal studies are impractical.

Generally it starts with a very simple prompt such as, “Tell me a story about the last time you …..”. The researcher or designer will continue to guide throughout the interview to help the narrative flow, by asking about the who, what, where, when and how of the person’s story. For example, if researching into a particular customer experience, they might ask who the person interacted with, what means of communication were used, when and where did the interaction(s) take place and how long did it take. Probing might include aspects of the environment as well as the individual’s experience and feelings.

Typically one person conducts the interview, while another might take notes (if the interview is not being recorded). Documentation is important for interpretation, which is typically based on a typical content analysis approach of clustering ideas into themes and looking for patterns that emerge within an experience, across different experiences, and ultimately across different people. Clusters and themes develop into an analysis framework which can then be reported.

The approach can be powerful in capturing the key aspects of any lived experience, and does not require any large investment of time or resource to collect meaningful data for any project, perhaps as a useful starting point for building hypotheses for additional research.


Universal Methods of Design by Martin & Hanington

Narrative Inquiry: Experience and story in qualitative research by Clandinin & Connelly

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