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March 28, 2022

User Stories: What They Are and Why They Matter

A user story is a valuable tool that helps you define your organization's fundamental website requirements in a simple, accessible way.

Whether buying a product or service, gaining essential information about your organization, or requesting a demo of your software, people visit your website to complete specific tasks that benefit them in some way.

When your website no longer allows people to complete these vital tasks quickly and easily, it’s time to redesign. 

It may come as no surprise to you that the top reasons for website redesigns include responsiveness issues, slow loading speed, bad navigation, and a poor user experience (UX):

Graphic showing top ten reasons for redesigning a website
Source: GoodFirms

Tackling a website redesign can seem like a mammoth task that requires careful consideration and input from numerous teams at your company, including project managers, your sales team, and the marketing department, to name a few. 

How do you keep everyone working towards the same goal while meeting deadlines and keeping within budget?

The answer lies in user stories. 

By developing user stories to guide your company’s website redesign, you can facilitate a collaborative environment where various team priorities align and, most importantly, meet the needs of your site users, whether internal or external. 

The folks here at Kanopi Studios are seasoned experts when it comes to web development and design, and we build sites that last. In this article, we define what a user story is and how developing your very own user story can lead to more conversions, a decrease in bounce rate, and ultimately ensure the success of your website redesign project. 

What is a user story? 

A user story is a valuable tool that helps you define your company’s fundamental website requirements in a simple, accessible way. 

Crafted to get everyone talking instead of coming up with specific design specifications, user stories empower key people within your company to help shape the features and functionality of your website without needing comprehensive technical expertise. 

Deciding on website requirements should be a collaborative process, with every stakeholder and team member’s voice heard and needs met. Developing user stories allows you to keep the focus of your website redesign where it belongs: on how your site addresses the needs of your site users.

The Nielsen Norman Group (NNG) expands on user stories further, explaining they allow Agile teams to define what to build and sustain visibility for how everything fits together, fostering user-centered conversations, collaboration, and feature prioritization to align and guide iterative product development.

Put simply; user stories help you define your website’s ‘what’ while ensuring no time is wasted discussing or debating the ‘how.’

The anatomy of a great user story

At Kanopi Studios, we use a structured format to help you craft your company’s user stories, as described by Mike Cohn in his book User Stories Applied. This storytelling structure helps us ensure your unique user stories are as straightforward as possible. 

Each user story follows the same format:

As a [type of user,] I want [their goal] so that [the benefit.] 

This user story template allows for the emphasis to remain on what site visitors come to your website to do and what your site must do to help them reach their goals. In other words, it maps out your company’s website requirements in plain language and within one, easy-to-understand sentence. 

Let’s explore how this works.

Imagine you work at a library. Research shows that your primary customers are parents with young children. These parents want to help their kids learn to love reading while doing fun things together as a family. Your user story might look like this: 

As a parent, I want a simple way to find out about events at the library so I can do things with my kids that teach them that reading is fun.

The parent needs easy access to available reading opportunities, including dates, locations, directions, and what’s needed of them on the day in order to get their child involved in reading. So the team would likely conclude that an event calendar feature will be the best way to fulfill this user story. 

It’s worth noting that each component of each user story carries equal weight when it comes to importance and must be included in the user story to be considered complete. 

Okay, but how do developers use these user stories?

Once all the user stories are drafted, a development team reviews all of the user stories for your project and bundles them into features (also referred to as epics) that need to be designed and built to meet the needs of your project. 

They also outline “acceptance criteria” for each story, which are the conditions that must be met to define successful completion of each story. Weigh these against priorities, and these become the roadmap for your project. Your team will review them in meetings, update them as the project moves forward, and share them with you for review and input as they are created, updated, and completed. 

Building upon the previous example of the library: 

As a parent, I want a simple way to find out about events at the library so I can do things with my kids that teach them that reading is fun.

The team has concluded that an event calendar feature will be the best way to fulfill this user story. So additional stories could be added to help designers and developers build this calendar feature more extensively. For example: 

  • As a parent, I want to sign up for event alerts so I know when new events are posted.
  • As a parent, I want to be able to add events I have registered for to my calendar so I can remember to attend. 
  • As a parent, I want to be able to share events via social media or email so that I can invite other families I know.

You can see how all of these stories ladder up to an event calendar feature. They begin to give shape to how your team will design and build the calendar and how your users will be able to interact with it.

Writing user stories in this way allows everyone involved in your project to understand the plan and work from a single source of truth. It also helps you keep project stakeholders on course. This way, when your executive director steps in and asks why the website even needs an event calendar, you will have an easy place to start. And when Sylvia from HR wants to use the calendar for employee recruiting events, you can gently remind her that the calendar was designed to meet the needs of parents, who are your primary target audience. 

When you look at the event calendar during testing, you should be able to run down the list of user stories and criteria and see that parents can sign up for alerts, add events to their personal calendars, and share via social and email. This means that the feature was developed successfully and can be considered done.

Developing your user stories

To kick off your website redesign project, Kanopi focuses on learning everything we can about your organization’s goals and the needs of your site users through interviews, surveys, heatmaps, and reviewing your existing documentation.

These activities allow us to understand the basis of the project and form a starting point for creating your user story.

Next, we assist your team with drafting stories to define the needs of your website redesign project, using the following probing questions:

  1. Who is your end-user? Are they a site administrator? An anonymous visitor? A specific UX persona?
  2. What’s the end user’s goal? What does the user need to do on your website? 
  3. How does the end-user benefit? Why does the user need to complete this task? 

The answers to these questions and others provide valuable context for our web developers when determining how best to implement your personalized user story. It also helps us ask tough questions. For example, if we can’t clearly define how something benefits your site user, does this functionality or feature need to exist? 

Once our dedicated development team reviews all of your user stories, they bundle them into features (also referred to as ‘epics’) that provide for design mock-ups built to meet the needs of your redesign project. 

Acceptance criteria exist for each agreed user story, which explains conditions that need to be met for each story to be considered complete. By weighing these against your priorities, a roadmap begins to take share for your redesign project. 

Improve your company’s website with user stories 

By clarifying what users come to your website to do at the very beginning of your project, your website can be redesigned to cater to their needs, making it easier and quicker to complete essential tasks. 

Starting with a clearly defined user story improves the UX of your site, leading to an increase in quality conversions and a decrease in bounce rates.

Focusing on the user story also saves your company valuable time and resources. It keeps everyone on track with redesigning your site to meet the needs of your vital website users. Explicit user stories crafted in collaboration eliminate the risk of you and your colleagues getting bogged down in technical development discussions that veer away from what people come to your website to do and why.

If your organization is about to embark on a website redesign and would like to learn more about how crafting your own user stories can bring clarity to your project, contact us. We would be happy to help set your website redesign project up for success with crystal clear user stories that make your site a joy to visit.