comment 0

Tools: Real life stories

Real life stories


‘Real Life Stories’ are a form of ‘persona’.  They are brief stories drawn from real life experiences.   They provide a short and provocative vignette that can be developed into a rich story of each character’s life.  Each ‘real life story’ has prompt questions on the back.  These questions cover a range of topics, from social connections, to attitudes, to hopes and fears.  By answering the questions it is possible to develop rich stories built upon real life experiences.


Peronas are often used in the later stages of the design process to represent typical and extreme service users and map their journey through newly designed services.  They can also be used in the early stages, combining them with empathy maps to delve deeper into the lives of people who might use services and consider the complexities of their day-to-day life.  Developing these rich stories can help us to think about how current or new services might be developed to better meet people’s needs.



  • Real life story cards (download to print)
  • Flip chart paper
  • Sharpies

1)  Work in small groups –  2 or 3 people works well.

2)  Pick a card that appeals to you and read the story on the front.  Share it around the group

3)  Spend a few minutes individually, thinking about the person and placing yourself in their shoes.  This is about thinking creatively with a mindset of building empathy and immersing yourself in daily lives.

4)  As a group, work through each of the questions on the back of the card, building up a rich story of your character and their life.  Write the story on the flip chart.  Draw pictures to illustrate your story.  Spend about half an hour on this.

5)  Reflect on your character’s story.  Thinking about your services, what works well for them?  What doesn’t work so well?  What problems might they face and what might be unmet needs?  Can you think creatively and sense new possibilities?

‘Real Life Stories’ in Better by Design

In Better by Design we introduced real life stories in the design brief workshops alongside empathy maps.  This encouraged teams to share stories about people who used their services and to highlight the complexities in everyone’s day-to-day life.

Service user, customer, client – there are various ways to describe the people we support but none of them sit particularly comfortably.  By introducing Real Life Stories and developing stories and characters, we can give our imaginary service users a name, and start thinking of them as real, individual people.

In developing rich stories and empathy maps you drew on experience of service users and other people.  These stories and maps help to develop ‘archetypes’ – descriptions of particular characteristics or patterns across different young people – not stereotypes.  We recognise that every young person is unique and faces unique challenges.  By getting into an empathetic and curious mindset, we can begin to identify ‘pain points’ in current service provision but also look beyond the present and begin to sense creative possibilities for new services.


You can view the real life stories here – Real life stories

You can download real life stories to print here  – Cards print layout.  They are formatted to print double-sided with 4 cards on an A4

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s