People love stories. We are told time and time again the value of storytelling when we present our UX work. But this is an article about Spontaneous Talks Frameworks (STF for short). These are a bit different from your traditional fairy tale that follows the arc and structure of a story. STF may not have a rising action, a climax, or a resolution. Heck, you might go as far to say that STF are not really stories at all.
Spontaneous Talks Frameworks are less about describing a narrative, and more about quickly organizing your thoughts, using a framework. A Spontaneous Talks Framework helps you to organize your thoughts to present UX designs or research findings to your stakeholders. STF can be a fabulous crutch when you need to speak on a topic that you have not prepared for in advance.
Organize your thoughts with these easy frameworks
The value of knowing about STF is so you can:
- Know how to answer (because you organized your thoughts)
- Feel confident in speaking (because now you know your answer)
- And just do it (that is, speak with less anxiety because you organized your thoughts)
Spontaneous Talks Frameworks help you break up your story into smaller, consumable chunks so it’s easier to organize and remember.
I first heard about STF when I was watching a video starring Matt Abrahams. Matt is a lecturer of strategic communication at Stanford Graduate School of Business in the US. In a particular lecture, he talks about Spontaneous Talks Frameworks, and after I saw the recording, I got really inspired to apply these same frameworks to sharing UX work.
Now that I know about STF, I can use this thought organization technique to answer anything—and to present my UX work.
Here is the process to use STF to organize your thoughts:
- You are presented with a topic or question
- You take a second to think about the frameworks that I am going to share with you
- You select a framework to structure your answer
- You share an organized response—not a rambling, mess of jumbled words that might not make sense
Now that you know a bit about the process and value of applying them to come up with “on your feet” answers, let's dive into a few of my favorite Spontaneous Talks Frameworks.
Examples of Spontaneous Talks Frameworks
✔ What? So what? Now what?
This framework was developed in the 1970s and is simply answering those three questions:
- What? What happened or what is going to happen?
- So what? Why is it important or why does this matter?
- Now what? What will we do next or what should we do moving forward?
This framework is great for sharing UX work because it requires you to give a bit of context about your UX work. Then you discuss the value or why it matters. Finally, you talk about what you will do next.
Pro tip: I would say that when in doubt, just default to use this framework. It’s easy to remember and covers a lot of important ground. So if you forget all the frameworks I go through here, just remember: What? So what? Now what?
“What? So what? Now what?” example
- What? I’m going to share a Human Resources homepage design and walk you through the iterations we’ll be making based on what we learned in research. This design is helping the company’s employees find the critical and most often needed parts of your company’s HR website.
- So what? The research I conducted surfaced what HR-related topics are the most critical parts of your website for users.
- Now what? Now that we know where your employees need to go, we want to then see how they get there. We’re going to test navigation next. We’ll conduct testing with these wireframes to understand which navigation features will be used the most by your employees.
✔ OSB: Opportunity. Solution. Benefit.
Similar to the “What? So what? Now what?” framework, the OSB framework helps you to structure your answer or presentation with some context.
- Opportunity: Start with the opportunity or problem you were trying to solve.
- Solution: Discuss the design solution. Share the output of the opportunity you were addressing.
- Benefit: Wrap up with how this solution benefits the user or the business.
The “What? So what? Now what?” framework talks about what you would do next. You can use the OSB framework when you don’t exactly know what you are going to do next. This is a great way to just share a project as it currently stands, without discussing future iterations.
- Opportunity: This dashboard is for technology account managers to get an overview of their servers and storage environment. Before this design, the information was scattered across several points throughout our system. This caused users to jump from place to place to get the information they needed.
- Solution: This consolidated dashboard design surfaces to the most important stats and figures all in one place.
- Benefit: Our users no longer have to navigate to multiple places to get a high-level understanding of their open tickets, notifications, and status of their devices. It’s now all in one place.
✔ PREP: Point. Reason. Example. Point.
This framework is almost a “sandwich” approach, where you start and end with the main point, to make it clear and memorable.
- Point: Start with stating the fact, or point. This is what’s important. Simply approach it like this: “This is what the project is addressing….” or,“How we’re going to address this user pain point is….”
- Reason: Give the reasons behind why that is your point and why it is important. One or two simple reasons about why you’re addressing this point should be enough.
- Example: Provide the evidence or examples for your point. Share an example that illustrates why that is important. This is where you state why you know this concept, approach, or solution is true.
- Point: Conclude by stating the point again...just in case anyone forgot what your point was in the first place.
I think the PREP approach is especially great to present user research.
- Point: Showcase your main insights and findings from the research.
- Reason: Express your point of view about why that is the main insight from the research study.
- Example: Share some supporting evidence from your research.
- Point: Reiterate the main insights and findings from the research again.
- Point: Take a look at the overview box here on the left. It surfaces the critical information our users want to see in an incident ticket.
- Reason: After talking with those who monitor security situations, like Beth in the private investing branch, I learned that what is really important is to be front and center for her.
- Example: Beth wants to see the severity of the incident, hence the number three right here in the first line. She also wants the ability to follow a ticket to stay on top of status updates. That can be acted upon by hitting the star here at the top of the box.
- Point: Based on feedback from our users, and backed up by usability testing to validate this design, we know that this box represents the summary or critical information for every security incident.
✔ STAR: Situation. Task. Action. Result.
Perhaps you are familiar with the STAR framework. This is a common recommendation to frame answers you can provide in a job interview.
- Situation: Provide the background or context. Tell them enough of the back story to understand what was going on.
- Task: Talk about what needed to be done. Tell them why something needed to happen or needed to be addressed.
- Action: The action is what did or how you did it. You might even go into what tools you used, or what approaches you took in the scenario.
- Results: Wrap up by simply explaining the outcome. Tell them about your accomplishments, success, impact, and what happened in the end.
Similar to what we’ve talked about with the other frameworks, STAR:
- Provides some context
- Talks about what you did
- Shows how you took action on something
- Shows what you learned, or what happened as a result
- Situation: The original design we started with had a few opportunities for improvement. Users expected cards to be interactive. Also, people said that the descriptions were not clear.
- Task: Based on my research, the design opportunity I took was to improve these cards to entice users to go in deeper on their information journey.
- Action: The new design addresses the previously mentioned concerns. Now a person can click into the boxes for more information. The icons used are now consistent in color and style, making this feel like a unified package of products. We also had our UX content strategist rewrite the description to be clearer.
- Result: The result of this redesign is an organization of products that feel like pieces of a larger, unified whole. We also now have a way to drill in deeper to each product for information.
✔ BLUF: Bottom line up front.
The BLUF Spontaneous Talks Framework actually has its roots in the American military. The idea is simple. State the bottom line, or most important information, first.
This is especially important in a military situation, when life or death relies on delivering a message quickly. At war time, there’s not a lot of time to fart around with a lot of build up. You need to get right to the point. In BLUF, you need to start with the critical detail, and explain the context afterwards.
This is similar to the concept of the lede in journalism. Maybe you have heard the phrase, “Don’t bury the lede.” When a journalist writes a story, especially for a newspaper or magazine that has limited space on the paper page, the journalist includes the most important detail in the first paragraph or two.
This is known as the lede, and it is done for a couple of reasons:
- People might not have time to read the whole article, so it’s best to give the reader the most important information first.
- If they have more time or interest, they will read more of the story. If not, the person has read the most important information in the first few paragraphs.
Also, as I have mentioned, newspapers and magazines have physical and page limitations. There are only so many pages or inches on which articles can be printed or published. When a newspaper editor assigns a story to be written, he or she does not always know if they are going to have to cut a story to make it fit on a newspaper page.
This is why the journalistic writing style presents the most important details in the lede: write important information first, so an editor can cut from the bottom of the story to make it fit.
Again, this could really relate when you share UX research by including your Executive Summary at the beginning of sharing your research findings. The “Executive Summary” is so named for those pesky executives who don’t have time to read your entire report.
Just give them the important details up front. Then, time permitting, you can go into more details like methodology, additional findings, recommendations and so on. BLUF means don’t start with the fluff.
Bottom Line Up Front: Here is the final recommendation of the way the Athena Greek Cafe menu should be structured.
Hummus should be categorized as a side. For those who consider hummus a topping for the meal, it should also be put under Sauces and Toppings. These findings are based on card sorts I conducted with dining customers. They told me where they expect these menu items to be found.
✔ ADD: Answer. Detail. Describe value.
This Spontaneous Talks Framework is more of a way to approach answering questions, than it is to presenting your UX work.
This is an “on-your-toes” method of answering a question. But you do more than just answer it, you illustrate it with an example and wrap it up by describing the value.
- Answer: Concisely answer the question. Squeeze your answer into a few choice words. Keep it simple and short.
- Details: Provide the details for the answer. You can do so through an example or supportive evidence, similar to the PREP framework. You can illustrate this through things like using a metaphor, comparison or example. Again, a few short snippets to provide enough detail to the answer.
- Describe value: Show the real impact or value of your answer.
- Answer: Yes, this design provides the right information on a mobile view.
- Details: In our research, we heard from Robert, who is a systems administrator. When he was at home in the evening, he got pinged to review the permissions for the administrator because she seemed to be blocked from a server. The information shown here on the mobile view is just the right type of info he needs to make such adjustments.
- Describe value: An admin like Robert has critical info he needs about Tabatha, to take action on upgrading her permissions and he can take action right here on his mobile.
✔ PPO: Philosophy. Process. Outcome.
I have to give credit to where I first heard about the PPO framework, and that’s from career coach named Andrew LaCivita. The next time you’re on the job hunt, check out his videos on YouTube. He has really great content on subjects like resumes, interviews, and salary negotiation. Andrew mentions the PPO framework, and again, this framework inspired me to share it here.
This is a great way to answer interview questions. Especially those tough ones where you want the person to understand a bit about why you hold a belief or viewpoint before going into the story. Start with sharing your philosophy first. This is a great way to frame context and to get alignment.
- Philosophy: Share your philosophy or point of view. Explain why you feel a certain way or why you took a specific approach.
- Process: Briefly talk about how you approached the scenario and accomplished what you were setting out to do. That is the process.
- Outcome: Wrap up with telling them the outcome or result.
Again, you can use this nice little STF when you want to set expectations, share a bit of context, or tee up the story a bit before directly diving in. Framing the story by sharing your point of view is a great way to positively influence the direction you would like to take the conversation.
- Philosophy: My philosophy is to openly communicate and to try to understand the root cause or motivation for our differing views.
- Process: I had a UI designer on my team who was upset that I did not create the same designs he was. I could sense the tension when we met. I asked him why he seemed upset and he told me I was not carrying my weight and creating as many pages as he was. Ahh, and there was the difference. I was hired to be more of a UX designer, with an emphasis on conducting research.
- Outcome: Once we discovered that we had different job roles, and therefore different duties, the tensions went away. Now we could see we were focused on different things. In fact, that UI designer was thankful I had access to the hospitals to conduct research and bring him data to inform his designs.
✔ RRR: Regret. Reason. Repair.
Not all scenarios you’ll talk about are going to be positive. So let’s talk about a Spontaneous Talks Framework you can use when you have to talk about a negative or regrettable situation.
In a sense, this is crisis communication. And I see this tactic used by public relations pros when they have to acknowledge a negative message. UX pros can use it when we have to break some bad news, like if a feature that didn’t test well in usability testing.
The “RRR: Regret. Reason. Repair.” STF breaks down a little bit like this:
- Regret: “I can’t tell you how much I regret what happened.”
- Reason: “As best as I can tell, here is what happened, and why.”
- Repair: “Here’s what I’m going to do to make sure this does not happen again.”
Again, you can use the RRR framework to talk about when a project or feature failed. This is part of the reason why UX pros conduct usability tests. We want to make sure our designs actually work for the user. But sometimes the designs are not successful, so you need a framework to help you break the bad news.
- Regret: Unfortunately, the new homepage caused a bit of confusion. Not a lot of people are clicking the “Continue for Free” button at the top.
- Reason: We think the reason is that the placement for that button is wrong. People are scrolling right down the page and just missing that button. People are just not used to seeing the Call To Action at the top of a webpage like that.
- Repair: My recommendation is to place the button further down on the page, above the “free trial banner.” The button should be our main CTA button color of orange to draw the user’s eye to take action there.
Again, I share these STF with you today so that you’re aware of them and can apply them the next time you need to present some work to your team, or if you have to think about an answer on the spot.
If you find you’re starting to panic and can’t recall which framework to use, just go with the “What? So what? Now what?” Spontaneous Talk Framework. It’s simple to remember, it’s very versatile, and will pretty much cover the important parts you need to express.
What other frameworks have you applied when sharing UX work with your stakeholders or team?
Jen Blatz is a Principal UX Researcher at BECU and Co-Founder and President of UX Research and Strategy. Jen's path to UX started in journalism and graphic design to UX design and finally at UX research and strategy. She has worked in a number of fields including finance, mortgage, cloud storage, security and pet health. Jen loves being active in the UX community, and is the co-founder and president of the UX Research and Strategy group, one of the largest UX groups in the world.