A little over a week ago Rob Fay and I had the opportunity to speak about the work we’ve been doing around “Design Principles” at a conference in Denver CO called the IA (Information Architecture) Summit. This was an industry conference focused on things like user experience, design, content strategy and, of course, information architecture. At this conference I sat in on a session called “The Stories we Construct” given by a man named Stephen Anderson. Stephen talked about how the stories we know or tell about the things we encounter and interact with impact the value we place on the object, the experiences we associate with them and the memories we shape around those experiences.

A little later on in the conference program a gentleman by the name of Koen Claes gave a talk about “Why we (UX professionals) should not focus on Experience.” Since ‘experience’ is at the heart of what we do on the “User Experience” team here at Blackboard this session definitely caught my attention. In fact, what Claes suggested was that rather than simply focusing on the experience itself we should focus on the memories our experiences create. People develop emotional attachments to experiences they encounter. These emotional attachments are what commit experiences to memory and shape the stories people tell about them. Generally speaking humans do not make decisions about what they like, don’t like, use, or don’t use based on the actual experience. They make decisions based on their memories of the experience.

As I was listening to these two sessions I started thinking about how they related to each other. How stories shape memory and memory shapes experience. Then I started to think about how all of this applies to the work our user experience team does on a daily basis. Our work revolves around creating valuable and meaningful experiences for teachers and students. If you think about it, every experience we create tells a story; how a teacher saves time grading tests because portions of the test can be auto-graded, allowing the teacher to just focus on the open ended questions; how a student can access all the information from their class online, review and absorb it at their own pace and submit a paper from the coffee shop as they are running late to class. These stories all shape the memories, and therefore the experiences, of our clients.

If the people using our products are influenced by their memories and memories are formed based on the stories they create around the tools they use and the tasks they need to do, then the best way to understand how people need to use our products is to understand the stories they tell about the work they do, the products they use and the experiences they’ve had. And by having this understanding and designing for these stories we can, as Mr Claes suggests, design experiences that will be remembered.

If the stories Blackboard Learn tells are simple, engaging and delightful, then the experience becomes more useful and more reliable and therefore more memorable. So tell us your stories and help us continue to build memorable experiences.

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