describing journeys as narrative

I’m trying to put together some idea about using a narrative approach to service design, and in particular I am trying to understand if we can use this approach to describe uers’ experience when approaching a service.

I found this description of the characteristics of a narrative on edutechwiki (according to Jean-Michel Adam’s definition)

  • a narrative involves a succession of actions (a description of a landscape is not a narrative);
  • a narrative involves at least one character, even if this character is not human (animal, object);
  • a narrative concerns a transformation from one initial state to a final state;
  • Unity of action: the actions is organized into a bigger unit, which forms a whole.
  • Causality: actions are causing other actions. Actions are not just following each other but are a consequences of each others.
  • Final evaluation: a narrative intends to exhibit a point of view, either explicitely (in the morale) or implicitely. In that sense, a narrative is a communication device.

Can a use case (or what many call “the user’s journey” be considered as a narrative, on the basis of this definition?

I hope someone will see this post and give me some feedback


6 Comments to “describing journeys as narrative”

  1. Nico,

    from my point of view, narrative is absolutely crucial aspect of service design .. nothing stay without movement ..

    for example .. I just (half a year ago, final release yesterday) designed a concept of some advisors (we call them geniuses) (and it’s a very unique service and approach in business field the client operates) for our client. from the beginning I told to the client “do not think it will work for first time”, “we are trying brand new concept” ..

    yesterday it happened 1st time .. I spend all the day at the place watching what’s happening and how customers react .. and I’ve been improvising (it means reacting) all the day.

    when I was thinking about the service, I counted with it .. it’s not just about design a service .. it’s about calculate in the mind, anything may change during the time, during smallest time in the service world .. and we have to be prepared for it .. not the “plan B”, but how to react.

    so, my point of view, narrative is a crucial part of service design.


    • HI Jan,
      My work in the last few months kept me far from my blog for a while. So I did not see your comment.
      I perfectly agree with you. designing services is not like designing a perfect machine (in which all the mechanisms have to be in place on the first time), but about designing what happens in time, and this means figuring out different possible developments of a set of events.

  2. Woho! Nicola! Many thoughts are coming to my mind on this post! Great reflection! Well… I’m taking some time to digest the content and bring it to my territory, but meanwhile…
    It just came to my mind that there where a kind of books when I was a child (I’m sure they already exist) called “Elige tu propia aventura” in which each story was written from a second-person point of view, with the reader assuming the role of the protagonist and making choices that determine the main character’s actions in response to the plot and its outcome. It was something like “If you want to take a bus go to page number X. If you want to continue by plane go to page number Y”. Isn’t this what we are doing when designing services and representing experiences in a user’s journey???

    I might have gone too far from your concern, but I had to “vomit” it as soon as possible ๐Ÿ™‚

  3. Hi Irune,
    thanks for your post… and sorry for my late reply
    Yes, what you are in fact describing is A form o f narrative, which is somehow similar to hypertexts. I think this kind of narrative is interesting, as far as, at the end of the journey you are able to “make sense” of the whole journey. We are more used to “straight” narratives, in which someone (or ourselves) tell a story like a line, from beginning to an end.
    Life (and services) are instead more similar to an hypertext, in which every moment implies a choice and the choices diverts the course of the story. In our life we are able to see the course of the story “ex post”, when the story is finished (think of a love story, for instance) and we make sense of it. We do not ignore all the choices we have not done and the other possible avenues we could have taken, but the true story, that happened to us, is what make more sense.
    So, thanks for you “vomit” (Bleah…!!!)

  4. You should definitely check out the work of Adam StJohn Lawrence and Markus HormeรŸ:

  5. Hi Nicola,

    actually the narrative approach to service design is an emerging field based on full-blown approaches like Actor-Network Theory and semiotics. You could start with:
    – Akrich, M. (1992), “The De-Scription of Technical Objects”, in Bijker and Law, Shaping Technology/Building Society. (Cambridge: MIT Press).
    – Latour, B. (2005), Reassembling the Social. (Oxford: Oxford University Press).
    – Greimas’ narrative schema (mainly in the 1979’s dictionary).

    I am usign these references to co-design ICT services by
    trying to overcome constraints posed by cognitive ergonomics.


    (PS. ho trovato il tuo sito sui commenti a “Vieni Via con Me” ๐Ÿ˜‰

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