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People before products

  • Linh Nguyen
  • December 07, 2015

‘What I Know Now’ was created out of frustration: why do so many user stories revolve around the product?

Companies often invite people who use their product to talk about it like a self-referencing bug. There’s only so much a company can say about the benefits and features of its product, and to keep referencing it further pushes it into a strange-loop phenomenon, in which it reflects and provides feedback back on itself, over and over.

This stance is, as we can see, already limiting the stories that have the potential to thrive because they’re overshadowed by the hierarchy of the product.

This feels like a wrong approach to user stories. Frankly because it’s incredibly boring to keep reading about the same thing, and unhealthy to put any product on such a high pedestal that it mutates into a separate entity. A product is useless if no-one uses it. When I started writing for Swipe, the first feedback I received was: “stop personifying the product.” It was true: I kept writing sentences like “Swipe does this” and “Swipe helped so-and-so achieved x,y,z.” But Swipe didn’t do anything other than what the user wanted it to do. It’s a service, not an autonomous entity with intentions.

The problem with reading product-centric user stories is that it’s like reading the instruction manual: there’s very little personality which makes it hard to engage with. ‘What I Know Now’ had to be different. It had to be about getting to know people as people, not getting to know them in relation to our product and how they use it.

We knew that we wanted the stories to have a timeless quality, that if someone was to read it 10 years from now, it will still help them in some ways. The series is really about life lessons from many lives. We had to be willing to go a little deeper by asking questions that matter; as a result, this allowed us to know our users on a more personal, intimate level. By simply asking a person what else is there to them besides the product they use means we are creating space for a more rounded, multi-faceted community full of depth.

My intention with ‘What I Know Now’ was to not talk about the product. Instead the product is used to show the story of a Swipe user. It’s a user story where users actually share their story. Essentially, it’s an effort to change the narrative from the technical to the personal.

Although the series is still very young, I’m hoping to keep building upon it. If reading this resonates with you, and you’d like to get involved, please reach out to me - I’d love to hear your snippet of wisdom!

Below are some of the stories from the series:

Caitlin Collins - Photographer

Alan Weller - Educator

Alice Shyy - Entrepreneur

Jason Redman - Educator

Adrian Osmani - Writer

Linh Nguyen

Linh Nguyen

Head of community at Swipe, a writer who loves talking to people.