How User Experience Design and Filmmaking are similar: Part 1 of 3

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When talking about my creative leadership work, I often use the analogy of an architect or movie director.  Despite the obvious differences in form and outputs between architecture, film, and design, any act that requires a heavy dose of imagining and creating will naturally share many similarities.  These fields are all about visualizing possibilities and refining that down into one cohesive vision or story.

 I was reminded of this when a colleague and I decided to take a stab at creating an entirely new way of delivering personas .  I know from various user studies that I’ve conducted over the years that web users usually fall into two camps: those who like to read, and those who like to watch.  When my colleague threw the idea out there of creating a video persona, it just made sense.  How could we not do it?!  Why hadn’t it been done before? 

Thoroughly excited about being pioneers, we sprung into action by converting our written personas into scenarios, then scenarios into scripts, then scripts into storyboards.  It was wonderful fun, and the funny thing is, the more we developed the “movie,” the more the personas took shape and came alive.  I also learned how damn hard it is to film just a few scripted minutes–much like all the behind-the-scenes UX work is easily dismissed when you don’t go through the process yourself.  So I thought I’d take some time just to jot down some similarities between filmmaking and UX.

Part 1 in the Series:

Specialists versus generalist:  I often find myself explaining the difference between design specialists and generalists.  If you’ve ever looked at some design job postings out there, occasionally a job will crop up with a laundry list of disparate design skills, usually including lots of slashes, i.e. interaction designer/graphics artist/developer/social media strategist.  I call these the “Swiss Army knife” job descriptions.

In the startup world, you typically need a Swiss Army knife generalist to keep the team lean and costs down.  And for any new projects (or ideas), this is a good idea too – you need just enough to provide that the idea is worth funding further. In our case, we were reminded what the difference is between being decent at something and being an expert at something.  We walked away with a greater appreciation of the contribution of expert specialists, and why the execution of a well-made video usually is not a solo (or even two-person) role.  That’s because the… 

Devil is in the details:  There are so many small details and nuances that build and contribute to a film, and they are often not noticed when they are done well.  It makes you appreciate the details (and the specialists who plan and manage them) even more.  Just a few hours after we wrapped our filming, I plopped down to watch some TV to unwind.  I found that this experience changed the entire way I watched a show—I noticed all the things I didn’t notice before:  How you have to think about and work around shadows and light; How you deal with filming screens and the annoying lines from their refresh rates; How cuts during a single conversation are handled; How placing small props or finding the right setting can tell much more than dialogue ever could.  No wonder the credits list is so long!

Equal parts technique & enthusiasm:  On the flipside, where we lacked in technique and expertise, we hopefully made up in enthusiasm.  I’m a big believer in a big dollop of enthusiasm, sheer determination, and ingenuity can take you pretty far.


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