Visual Storytelling to Elevate Your Vision Communication


Visual Storytelling to Elevate Your Vision Communication

Product Direction

Visually exciting and memorable stories put users at the center of the product vision, remind team members to stay focused on user problems and needs, and, most importantly, bring people together to be excited about a shared future. Yutong Xue, Product Designer at Facebook, Meta has led numerous projects where visual storytelling has elevated the team's alignment with the product vision. She will share learnings from her experience at Facebook and Google on visual storytelling to help the audience:

  • Align teams on a common product vision
  • Develop products with a keen eye for the user's needs
  • Elevate the organisation's product vision
Yutong Xue

Yutong Xue, Staff Product Designer ,Meta

Hi, I'm Yutong Xue, a product designer at Meta, though today I'm going to be talking about how visual storytelling can elevate your visual communication. Let's get started. So first of all, a little bit about me. I've worked at Google and meta in the past couple of years. At Google, I worked on products like the Google Pixel phone, and the Google Pixel watch, it's very early days. And at Meta, I've worked in the workplace for the enterprise products we sell to our customers. And most recently, I'm working on developers and working on avatars to prepare for the future of the metaverse. And across these kinds of experiences, I've seen a lot of visions be created and also presented to leadership to teams. There have been good ones, and there have been not-so-great ones. I personally have seen visual storytelling play a very key role in making sure the visions are well received, and also get buying and also get excitement from the team. And that's what I want to share with everyone today. So how can visual storytelling elevate fishing communication? Before we get into a bit more detail, I'll first talk about what great visions are. I think we all agree on many things, but I want to just talk about them first. So great visions. First of all, they should get people excited here. That's really the reason why we create visions. They are things we want people to believe about the future. And one of the examples I'm showing here is last year when Max Pepper was talking to people about the metaverse in last year's Facebook Connect. And Metaverse is, of course, still very, very early. And it's abstract. And there are still a lot of things that haven't been defined. But he was able to show people what the metaverse can look like. And he didn't just like towers. He showed prototypes. He showed videos, he showed how things can work in the metaverse. And that kind of a realistic representation of the future was very exciting. So internally at Mehta, I heard so many other people saying after seeing Facebook Connect, we were saying let's change teams. Let's go work for the metaverse. And that's what I did. So I got very excited about the metaverse because of the future that he presented to us and I changed our to work on the metaverse and the avatars. And at the same time, visions evoke emotions. So they help people to connect with the future. And oftentimes, people don't remember the exact features that are being presented. But they will remember how the visions make people feel. So for example, here, the example I have is, back in 2016, when Brian Chesky, the CEO of Airbnb, talked about Airbnb trips to have a one I still remember he showed a video of a lonely traveller who went on a trip and how Airbnb trips can help to him to transform like the what the trip would be. And I remember the music, the visuals, the story, I don't remember the exact features or whatever they were trying to promote. I remember how it made me feel. So feelings stick to people. And when presenting visions, I think a focus on the feelings or the features is very helpful. So then people connect and remember to sum up. So great visions help people to see things and also feel that future. It's like you can almost touch the future. The future is not here with us yet. But visions bring them closer to today. And people can feel you almost now. So I want to share how visual storytelling can play a role. visuals and stories can help people connect, can help people to see and help people to fail in the future. So I'd like to go over a couple of things today. First of all, I want to talk about stories. So how stories can help grand visions? And second, talk about visual visuals. So how visuals can help to clarify and also drive excitement? And last I will talk about some frequently asked questions. So first stories. So we'll talk about how stories will grant your vision. So let's think humans are story animals. When we are younger, as kids, we like adults when they tell our stories. That's why there are so many bedtime stories.
And then now as adults, we think we walk around, we read things we read and stuff. In our mind. We're always making up stories. And that's how we make sense of what's happening around us. And also when we talk to people at work and at home. Anytime really, we are telling each other stories. Again, that's how we process how we make sense of how things work around us. But oftentimes, I see visions are present here as feature lists instead of stories and that makes it hard to understand. So here on the left, you can see, that's how sometimes visions are structured, you have a vision statement, you have some themes. And within each of the themes, you have different features. That is kind of like a realistic or like, reasonable structure. But after you present it to other people, oftentimes they will remember only a couple of parts and pieces, they may forget a theme, and they may forget some of the features. So their takeaway becomes a couple of different features and some themes. And it's, they have to later recall, what is a vision? Why is that a problem? So here, I'm using a metaphor here, when we are for the blind people touching the elephant. So for you, the person who's creating the vision, you may think, is clear it's an elephant. It's a whole big picture, right? Because you're so close to the vision. But then the people who are viewing the vision may only remember or see or digest only parts of it. So on their side, they see it, is there a wall, a snake, is there a tree? That's their interpretation. And that's not great. They don't see it as an elephant as you do. So what can we do? This is what I want to share, instead of showing visions as feature lists, show them as a story. So instead of going through each of the features by theme, which is a reasonable baseline, change them into here's a story. And so on the right, you can see here first introduced the vision statement, that's fine, do a summary, and then talk about what's the user. So here we've J, and here's who's J and all that, and then talk about what the challenges pinpoint J has j is our user. So when j is doing this, and that these are the problems, and then you go into the vision talking about now when j does the same thing. The experience is so much better. So as you go through the narrative, it becomes so much more humanized people understand where you're coming from, what are the pain points, and also how the vision can make it so much better. So it becomes a narrative. But you may say, well, people are still going to forget things, right? Like they are still not going to remember the whole story okay, so what we are going to do is to try to really focus on the emotions instead of the details. So when you present the user, when you present the problems, and the result, focus on having them connect with that vision. So nice to meet you, that's a user, and then feel the pen like it is the third pencil, have your audience feel the pen. And when you show the vision, they actually can actually feel the joy, oh, it is so much better. So get them to feel that way. And so their takeaway after revision would be, I remember that is solving the problem. That's what they should be remembering. And that's what they should excite you about, they may not, they still may not be able to remember all the features and all the details, but that's okay. So that's kind of, um, the user story itself. But when we show it to other people, there are still other things that we should cover. So this is what I want to share. This is kind of a visual presentation or a slide or story type of structure that we often use at Mehta. I've seen it work across different teams and different visions. So here it is, first of all, still go through the vision background, why are we even doing this? What are the existing insights and problems that you already know, then do a summary of the vision. This is as much as the story is important, I still think that the summary will be very important. So-called key features are called key things, principals, statements, and stuff. And then you go into the user story here, where people go into the details and really go through the whole narrative. And when they get to this point, even though they may not read through everything they know, you've gone through the process of understanding the user, understanding the problems, and making sure your story and your vision actually fits the problem and actually solved it.
Lastly, we can talk about execution plans, the strategy, and what would happen next steps to metrics and things. Those things are always very important as well, what are the next steps, but they are more kind of after post division type of work. So this is why I want to share the story part. Second, I want to talk about visuals. For visuals. I think I'm a designer, so I'm sure a lot of designers also know visuals are very helpful to clarify things. I do think there are different, slightly different understandings of when visuals should be used and how they should be used. And that's what I want to highlight here. As a junior designer back then I used to like to always ask different people, what can design bring to the table? What can I contribute to product teams? And I remember a lot of senior designers used to tell me, yes, design can pick up work and we can provide visuals. But design isn't all about visuals. So don't jump into visuals too quickly. I still agree with that, I still think we should find the right moment to jump into visuals. But at the same time, I think when creating visuals, I've seen too many times when visuals are introduced, it's so late. So people spend a lot of time trying to use words and text to clarify, which isn't efficient. And here's an illustration of how it might work. So for example, here, vision always starts with text and always starts with words. So here's a wealth tax that's written about the vision. And for the different people in the audience. You just might have different interpretations. You never know what the other person might be imagining in their mind versus my own. And like whether or not they are aligned. But how it can be different. So introduce a visual, introduce a prototype, and here it means this. So there's a lot less room for this or misalignment. And the conversation would change from previously it's about is this what you mean, or to now it's about is this what we want? And that's a step forward. So the old saying goes, an image is worth more than 1000 words, I would say a prototype here is worth more than 10,000 words, so we can see it, we can see the future without spending all the time trying to build it. And I think this is the superpower design can bring, I would encourage the designers to re-use this superpower, especially in the early stage of occupation creation. It may take more time, but it will help in general, streamline the process and clarify for everyone in the process. Then on the visual side, one other thing I want to talk about is visual quality, and also fidelity. So even though its vision, like the quality and fidelity matters so much, the whole point is to get people excited yet. So imagine when Mark Zuckerberg was showing us the metaverse, instead of showing these high-quality, almost realistic videos he just showed, or he just talked about yet, he just showed a couple of sketches or static images, then we wouldn't get here, we wouldn't get excited, we wouldn't see the future that he believes in. But here using something that's much higher fidelity, we are able to really understand what he's talking about. And that's very important. And I think I like spending extra time crafting the vision to bring the visual quality higher. And also adding more fidelity is very important and also efficient in the long term. Even though it may seem in the beginning, it takes longer. Now, I will move on to the third part. So frequently asked questions. I am a strong believer in visual storytelling. And I keep telling other people about the topic. So I've heard a lot of different questions that may come up in the discussions. And you might have some of the questions too. So I will just go over to address some of the questions and comments.
First one, so when I say well, you should create a holistic user story. Sometimes people would say that we don't have enough insights to create the whole story. What should we do? We all know, like for any product, vision, or really building product in general, we have to understand first. So yes, we know user insights are important. But I would say that sometimes when teams try to move fast, there are times we don't have enough insights. And in those cases, if you do have time, spend the time doing the research. Otherwise, we'll end up building products for ourselves, which is never good. But there are also other times, especially in large companies, you just don't have the time to do the research. Leadership says we need a vision and we have to do it. And then we'll do there must be some insights you can leverage otherwise, I don't think there'll be a trigger to say why vision. So leverage that and then make best guesses but make it super clear. After you create this first round of vision. It needs to be validated, it needs to be tested. There's their hypothesis that you're putting down and it needs to be proved with real user insights. That needs to be made clear. By this stage. You can make best guesses just to make sure the conversations are moving forward. Second question so or more of a comment. User Stories feel so cheesy Yes, sometimes they get cheesy. And then also leadership. They're so busy, they don't have time to read through everything anyways, why bother? It's just a lot more time spent. Right? So in my mind, I think she really but so what, like it does a job, it helps to connect people, it grounds everything, humanizes the problem we're trying to solve and the products, and so we can all relate. So as cheesy as you may think, maybe it's still worthwhile to do it. So then people all get the point. And from a leader, Site Point, leadership point, yes, they may not have all the time to read through the whole thing. But again, first, like it helps to at least go through the process, even for yourself. So when you're creating the ideas, you may think these things all make sense together. But going through the process of creating the user story can really help you see where the gaps are. And where are some of the ideas, actually, they're not solving the problems? So go through that as much as for others. As for yourself, and then for the leaders who may not have much time to summarize for them. And that's where the vision summary is so important to summarize the key points so that they can click through, and then they can get the point. Now, the third question, what if I'm not sure what exact features I should add to the story, that's totally fine. What we mentioned already is focused on the emotions, focus on how you want people to feel, you want them to feel like they feel the pen, feel the joy, feel a transition. So that's what you should be focusing on, you can figure it out later, once you have bought, once you have excitement, you will have more time and more resources to work on the exact same things. That's one, so this is more on the designer side, it seems a lot of work to do all the illustrative marks, and later on, you have to redo them and redesign them anyways. Why spend this time? So I would say yes, it can be a lot of work, especially if you're trying to bring up the fidelity, pro, and create prototypes and things. That's Yes, a lot of time spent. But really think about your goal. If the vision is to get by using excitement, then that time well spent is probably the most impactful thing you can do at this stage. Everything else can wait. If you don't get biased, you don't get people excited. There's no next step. So do spend the time you have if you have the time. Now related to this, as we mentioned, does visual quality matter? Yes, of course, yes. That's why I've seen so many designers tend to be like, let's move fast. Let's do something just to illustrate the point, and not to polish. It works. Sometimes if the whole team understands the visuals, the concepts aren't going to get better in the next step. But oftentimes when teammates are large, others don't understand, they see what they see. And they think that's what you're proposing. And if it's lower quality, they're not going to get excited. So I would say if you have the time, make sure there is a profit, there is a quality that would get people to say this is what I want. I want it today. And I think that there's a lot of payoff, by spending that extra time in the beginning.
And after you create the marks, this is what often happens. People keep asking about some details in the illustrative mocks, what should you do? Make it very clear to them that visions are not specs. I think too often, especially coming from other functions other than design, people get caught up on details, they may ask about one specific interaction or this visual I can even make it clear to them that it doesn't matter. Like we will change them, we will make them better. You can provide feedback, and you can ask questions, but I may not have answers. And that's not a problem, because that's not the point at this stage. So those are some of the frequently asked questions that I would hear from others when I talk to them about this topic. And now I was so-called back, just to remind ourselves to grip visions to help people see the field of the future. You can almost touch it. And what I want to say here, really just one takeaway is visual storytelling can help. So don't just tell the vision, paint the story of the future, show them what it can be. So then people understand how much better it can be and why we're doing it. So that's my talk today. Thank you