Personas, job stories and simple planes: wireframing a LAMP interface

Let me start by introducing myself – my name is Benjamin Perry  and I am the Creative Design Coordinator at Mimas. My role on this project is alongside Leigh Morris as the User Experience (UX) Team who are responsible for designing the website itself. As part of this team it’s crucial that I not only understand but am involved with the Information Architecture and the User Interaction Design (the Skeleton Plane – more about planes below), However my particular focus is the visual appearance of the website itself (the Surface Plane).

Having recently read the seminal work of Jesse James Garrett on The Elements of User Experience , it’s clear that where I join this project it has already been through some good User Centered Design (UCD) processes. In Garrett’s book he talks about UX design consisting of 5 layers; the Strategy Plane, the Scope Plane, the Structure Plane, the Skeleton Plane and finally the Surface Plane. “These five planes provide a conceptual framework for talking about user experience problems and the tools we use to solve them”


Jesse James Garrett's simple planes Jesse James Garrett’s simple planes

As you work through each of the planes the issues that you have to deal with move from being abstract to more concrete. Each of these planes is dependent on the ones below it, but this does not mean that each plane needs to be finalized before the next can be started. It’s much better to be flexible; sometimes decisions made on an upper plane may force a reevaluation (or an evaluation for the first time) of an issue from a lower plane.

As I said before my dealings are mainly with the Skeleton and Surface planes, so I’m very much at the sharp end of the process. My work requires the planes before these to have been clearly defined (but not finalized!). As much as I’d like it, I don’t ever expect to be handed all the project brief and documentation then sail through the work without having any questions and get sign off first go – It’s never going to happen. User Centered Design is core to our business at Mimas so the UX team need to be the ones preaching this gospel the loudest. If we can enlighten people to the process we use and give them the tools to help work through the issues that they are faced with, then we will not only build better products but our jobs will be made much easier too.

So lets take a step back and look at what’s happened so far:

David Kay has been looking at the Epic Level narrative with the User Stories. These have been essential to help provide a clear business case for this project and define its strategy – the Strategy Plane.

Bethan Ruddock  has then used these to create some Personas, which have been used to create workflows. These are step-by-step guides that detail how a user would potentially perform a tasks based around of the features of the website (we’ve made these available). These have been used to start to flesh out the Scope Plane and also start to inform the Structure Plane.

The UX team has then taken these workflows along with some early prototype wireframes and visuals to create interactive walkthroughs of how these tasks might be achieved in the UI (we used InVision to do this – its fantastic!) – Structure, Skeleton and Surface Planes.

These have been essential to help generate discussion not only within the team but the wider LAMP CAP group. Seeing something physical in front of you is very powerful and it certainly highlighted some of the issues on the lower planes that needed to be readdressed or hadn’t yet been addressed.

In discussing these issues I was reminded of this blog post by Alan Klement  that Leigh had found which introduced the idea of Job Stories. In his post he summarises –

“… the problem with user stories is that it’s too many assumptions and doesn’t acknowledge causality. When a task is put in the format of a user story (As a [type of user], I want [some action], so that [outcome] ) there’s no room to ask ‘why’ – you’re essentially locked into a particular sequence with no context.”

Klement says with mature defined projects his team were able to talk through and understand proposed changes however “because our canvas is blank, we are having trouble getting on the same page when it comes to customer motivations, events and expectations. But today, things have turned around. I’ve come across a great way to use the jobs to be done philosophy to help define features. I call them Job Stories”

This immediately drew parallels with our project and seemed a natural solution for us for us to gather more information to inform our UCD process. We needed to get a more definitive idea of what people want to do with LAMP but also wrap that in real world context and expectations. With the CAP group full of future users of the site we thought this would be the perfect opportunity to introduce this idea and get them to tell us about their own Job Stories. So we gave the group blank forms to fill in following Klement’s process: (situation) When _____ , (Motivation) I want to _____ , (Expected Outcome) so I can _____ .

Getting the CAP group to think in this way was really positive. The information we collected is helping to define the features for this first phase of the project as well as generating discussion around future enhancements.

As a first outing using Job Stories we found this to be very successful. I’m not sure we did this in the same way that Alan Klement did it with his team, but it certainly generated lots of discussion, highlighted issues and gave us much more information to work with than we had before. What’s more, this information is not based on assumptions, as with the personas, but based on real life users, which is what we set out to achieve. You can see the job stories the CAP created.

We’ll be using the information and insights from these job stories as we work on the next stage of developing the LAMP interface.

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