The Hero’s Journey for UX Design and Product Adoption

What makes user experience (UX) design successful? Google it. Read books. Enroll in boot camps or formal educational programs. In the end, it all comes down to one word.

Adoption.

You’re not creating a product to sit on the shelf and look pretty. It has a purpose, but it can’t execute on that purpose without someone at the controls. Of course, this means that design should focus around the user, correct?

Yes!

And no.

“It’s not the customer’s job to know what they want,” quotes Steve Jobs. If the customer doesn’t know what they want, then how are you going to design something that they will use?

You know who else doesn’t know what they want? Heroes. Heroes just want to go about their business doing what they love to do. Then someone comes along and pushes them out of their comfort zones and before they know it, they’re on some epic journey. The hero’s journey.

The Hero’s Journey is a template for almost any story involving a hero who must embark on an epic journey to win an important victory and return transformed as an improved…human? alien? user! Yes, user!

The users who don’t know they need your product must embark on a journey of adoption much like the hero in an epic adventure story, only without all the dragons, orcs, and treacherous terrain. We can use the Hero’s Journey as a checklist for successful UX design.

The structure of what was originally coined as the monomyth has been described in different ways with as many as 17 phases. I bring it down to just five.

In most epic adventure stories, the hero:

  • is called to leave “home,”
  • expresses reluctance but goes anyway,
  • achieves success,
  • returns home, and
  • tells the story.

In most user adoption stories, the user:

  • must leave the “comfort zone,”
  • is reluctant but keeps trying,
  • achieves success,
  • returns to routine,
  • shares the solution.

Leave Their Comfort Zone

Pushing users out of their comfort zones involves enticing them. Your design strategy should find a way to make your product inviting. Consider how your product solves a real problem. The product was created for a reason. What is that reason and does it address some pain point for your target users?

Sharing design efforts with marketing can help reduce any miscommunication and align product design with market messaging. Release plans for target users will also tell you something about what users are expecting. Your focus here is to use whatever you know about the product, the market, and the user to design an inviting experience.

Reluctance

Even if you are successful at inviting users to use your product, they might still be reluctant. The more difficult the product is to use, the more reluctant your users will be.

Making it easy means an interface design that is clean and simple, and it has to work. Failure at any point is a good reason to set the product down and do something else. Try as we might to make things error-free, something will go wrong. Communicate with tech support or customer service to find out how they plan to help users through any issues. In this collaborative effort, you can decide how to build tech support into the product.

Success

You need your users to experience success as soon as possible. How can you design that into the product? What small win can your product offer in the first few minutes of use? How can your design highlight this? What groups should you work with to capture and leverage this quick win to make it more appealing to new users?

Return to Routine

If your design has all the components to get a user this far, then it solves a problem. Now you need them to keep using it. How does it work with what they already use? Is it flexible to work with different brands of the same technology? Is integration simple and flexible? Everything in modern technology is a conversation. Design your product to fit into that conversation.

Share the Solution

If your design gets your users interested in the product and using it every day, the final challenge is to design a way for them to share the solution. Your user experience design isn’t about focusing on one user; ultimately you want the largest user base you can get. How will your users spread the experience from one user to another and from those users to non-users?

First, you have to make it easy to share, but what about non-tech solutions that carry the story? What about the “backstory?” What is the history of the product and its developers? What values surround the use of your product? What is the big “why” behind the reason your product exists? Your product impacts the world at some level. Make that connection obvious to users and make it a story that they want to share.

Closing Thoughts

Successful UX design isn’t about a sleek user interface. UX design has three legs: function, form, and user. A sleek interface (form) is useless if it doesn’t work (function). And great form and function are useless if the user is not interested. Each of these legs of UX design is a series of moving parts that must all work smoothly together for the best adoption strategy. The best well-oiled design machine involves people who communicate across different functional groups, even if they exist in silos. Who needs to be trained? What meetings need to be scheduled? What team-building events need to happen?

Frodo didn’t save Middle Earth all by himself. Just as users are on a journey to work your product into their lives, you too are on a journey to bring people together and build the best solution you can for your users. In a way, you’re not really building a product—you’re building heroes. Are you ready for the journey?

Katie Stroud
Katie Stroud is a learning solutions engineer gifted at developing organizational learning experiences tailored to each business’ needs.

With a decade of experience in instructional design & learning strategies, Katie founded Incremental Success to better serve more clients. Her strategic approach to learning development has benefitted many technology and service companies.