Method: 4 Voices

“4 Voices” is a method I’ve used to teach writing; it entails targeting similarly-themed information to four different audiences (of different ‘statuses’ or contexts or relationships to the writer). It is designed to demonstrate how content, purpose and tone can / should change based on the recipient of the message – and that not doing so, impedes effective communication.

Although I originally used “Four Voices” in a college writing classroom, its audience focus lends itself beautifully to the user-centered design process as well, especially during a persona implementation setting. It’s also a great warm-up to integrating story-telling into the UX design process.

How it works:

  • Ask participants to think of an (actual) event they experienced and would want to share with four different people they know – real individuals
  • Have them relay this story to the first person they just identified. It can be any one of their four, although it is helpful to start out with the person who has the highest shared knowledge with the participant.
  • Continue the exercise with the three remaining recipients.
  • Have participants reflect on what elements of their “story” changed/stayed the same, and what worked/didn’t work for the audience(s) they would likely craft this message for.

Writing Example:   “You are on an exchange trip to study in Paris. After your first week there, it’s time to write to folks back home: First to your best friend; then to your 7 year old sibling; then to a parent; and, finally to the teacher who inspired you to study abroad in the first place …”

Naturally, no one mentioned staying out until 6 AM to little sisters or parents; nor did they mention to their teacher the extra few bucks they asked of their parents! Best friends got the juiciest details — details which could be expanded upon in an appropriate tone when it came to translating the story into a form of academic writing …

With a design team, this exercise is also effective for getting inside different users’ shoes  in an authentic, empathetic way that is both easy to relate to and memorable. It also brings to the forefront the fact that we design for many different types of users with different abilities, interests, motivations, and needs. Give it a try with this persona exercise.

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