A user story is a short, simplified description of a software feature that’s written from the perspective of the user. It is generally used to describe the what and why behind a feature, and link the product design process more closely to the end users.
A user story is often written in a simple sentence structure as follows:
As [the user], I want to [action] so that [desired outcome].
Why are User Stories Important?
User stories are often written on index cards (in physical offices) or recorded on digital whiteboards for remote teams. The phrasing helps to turn each feature request into a discussion that gains depth and relevance with each iteration.
Without user stories, the backlog of a product team can quickly become mere tasks on a checklist, which are implemented without a second thought of the why behind each feature. This can result in mediocre features and products that are misaligned with the end user’s true goals and expectations.
When Should You Write a User Story?
In agile environments, user stories are often written during a dedicated story workshop that takes place at the beginning of the project. Then, they are written and added to as-needed when the backlog grows over time.
No matter what formal sprint process you use, the most important thing is to write user stories before the work on a feature begins, since the conversations, discussions, and research that surround each story will inform the direction that you’ll end up taking.
Example User Stories
User stories are versatile tools that can help the product design team understand the context of a particular goal or action of the user.
Let’s say that you’re currently working on designing the shopping cart feature in an eCommerce website. You’ll want to test the ability to add or remove items from the cart, change quantities, select payment methods, and more.
Some user stories for this feature might look like the following:
- As an online shopper, I want to add a product to the cart so I can purchase it.
- I want to change the quantity of an item that I’m adding to the online shopping cart.
- I want to select different payment options, so that I feel more in control.
Not all user stories need to follow this structure, but it can be a helpful starting point for defining your customer’s goals.
User stories are simplified statements that help product teams understand feature requirements in a more user-centric way. The more you integrate user stories into your product design process, the more your team can begin to understand and empathize with the users they are designing for.