John Ellison

Day 53: Rewriting Sam's Story

14 min read

I kicked off Day 53 with a short meeting regarding the trajectory of the Training Project with Andy P and James Box. We had a long discussion on Day 52 about the project, but we needed some final clarifying notes in order for us all to be on the same page headed forward.

I have really appreciated the pragmatism with which Andy P has approached this project. While I can launch off into rather grandiose brainstorming, Andy P seems to have a much more critical and analytical eye on what would be the most feasible and practical option. This has definitely created a positive conflict which I think is keeping the project on track.

Re-Writing Sam's Story

In writing my 90 Days blog post, I felt a stream of prose running through me that would allow me to define the Training Project product/service concepts within the context of the user stories from which they arose. I started writing and the words kept flowing. I was meant to have a session with James to work on further defining the product/service concepts, but I had loads of momentum so I asked if we could reschedule for later in the day.

Here's the story:


Sam was stuck. He just lost his job as a print designer in a small agency in Warsaw because he couldn’t keep up with the demand for ‘web design’ amidst all that was going on in his personal life: His daughter was born prematurely and spent several weeks in the hospital before she was released; his wife was dealing with severe post-partum depression and he couldn’t figure out how to keep up with it all.

He tried to tell his boss and co-workers that he just needed a little more time, that he was learning and that he’d be able to deliver what they’d asked if they’d just give him more time. They listened to him and gave him one extension after another, but when he began falling asleep at his desk at work—they had to make a stand.

Upon giving him his notice, he had two weeks to pack up all his stuff. He peeled sticky notes off his monitor. Each note was a scene from a comic that he was working on. The sound of soft adhesive peeling off his monitor got louder and louder.

At first he thought he should save them and began sticking them neatly to one another. But as he looked at the stack of web design books on his desk—some of them opened and some of them closed—he began crumpling the notes in his hand and throwing them in the bin.

He looked at the wooden photo frames of his young daughter on the shelf in his cubicle. He shook his head as he tossed the frames loosely into a brown cardboard box. Pens, rulers, markers and triangles formed the next layer in the box.

He didn’t care if the rulers bent or if the triangles cut holes into the sides of the box. He didn’t care about this stupid job. He came here to design beautiful layouts on paper that he could touch and feel. He came to make simplicity out of complexity and to run his fingertips across the surface of his work.

Instead they wanted him to ‘design’ pages that looked like a tangled mess on a screen. There was no structure, no order, no control. He didn’t like to code. The software he was using was buggy and slow. He hated having to stare at a screen all day. He just wanted to go back to what he loved...

Victoria Station

The train conductor announced the next stop ‘Victoria Station is approaching’. Sam grabbed his rucksack and felt the rustling of feet standing and moving towards the carriage door. Everyone looked like a robot. Nobody was smiling. Sam swallowed and mustered up the courage to translate his perfect Polish into broken English.

“How do I get to Farringdon?” He asked a man at the platform. The man spoke quickly. He pointed and moved his hands a lot. His accent was think and he slurred his words together. “Thanks” Sam said, having no idea where to go.

Design School Informational

Sam looked up from his map and saw [the name of the street] at last. He recognized the designSchool logo from the website and rung the bell. He walked into a lobby full of people with drinks in their hands. He looked for somewhere to drop his luggage and felt the burden of all his things as he removed the rucksack strap from his shoulders.

His voice quivered as he introduced himself. His hands were cold and clammy and he felt sick. He glanced back at the door and saw several other people walk in. They smiled and called out to their friends in the room. Everyone seemed to know each other.

The speaker was a woman with short brown hair that curled down around her face. There wasn’t a single hair that was out of place. Her blouse was tucked tightly into her black skirt.

She introduced herself as Asha, an instructor for the upcoming UX course. She spoke confidently and used sentences that she’d obviously said hundreds of times before.

Sam looked at the other people in the room as they made their way to their chairs. Each person had a certain look and held a confident swagger in their step. They knew why they were here. Sam wasn’t so sure.

Sam listened to Asha talk about the UX course. It sounded like a special place. They had instructors coming from great companies that Sam stumbled upon in his research about UX. Asha showed photos from some of the previous courses. There were lots of sharpies, pieces of paper, wireframes and students working late into the night.

There didn’t seem to be much comraderie between the students. There was a lot of focus on the individual and the end goal of getting a job in UX. Asha showed how the course was a much better investment than going to university and how you were basically guaranteed a job. She showed pictures of the fair at the end of the course. Each student had a stall and recruiters from designSchool’s partners all over London were looking for talent.

Sam felt warm black oil drop through his chest and ripple through the pool of his stomach. He couldn’t imagine anything more terrifying than showing his work in front of a bunch of London recruiters and competing with all the other students for places at a UX job role...

But the figures Asha mentioned about starting salaries were really strong. Sam knew it was expensive to live in London, but if he could only get a few years working as a UX’er in London, he’d be able to move back to Warsaw and provide a much better life for his family.

The 10-week immersive course was a lot of money and it was a big commitment, but it seemed like he could be pretty confident that he’d end up with a job that would allow him to start a good career and provide for his family. If this was something that he’d be happy doing was another story...

Talking To Celina

Sam called his wife Celina after he checked into his hostel. He told her everything about the trip and told her about the course. They had a long discussion about how it would work: Whether he’d move to London while they stayed in Warsaw or if she would try and get a part-time job to help them cover the London wages. She had some inheritance money from her grandfather, but neither of them wanted to eat into their savings.

Celina asked, “Isn’t there some way you can learn this stuff without spending so much time and money? Can’t you do something online? What about taking those free online courses while you work another job? That way we wouldn’t have to fork out X,000 Euros and not have any income for three months. The cost of moving…”

Sam tried to convice Celina that it just wan’t the same. It would take him a year to learn online what he could learn in an immersive course like General Assembly.

She asked him to at least look into it and see what else was out there. He had a few more days left in his trip anyway. Sam had scheduled a few job interviews in London and one of them had cancelled on him so he decided to sacrifice his day of sight seeing and explore other options…

Exploring Other Options

In exploring design schools on the internet, Sam found something really interesting. It must have been new because he had performed similar searches and never saw anything like this.

It was an open-source design curriculum full of activities, principles, mindsets and project briefs. In scrolling through the website he felt a sensation rise in his chest. This was amazing.

There were designers from all over the world contributing to this. Some of them were students and some were Heads of UX at big companies. There were long discussions at the bottom of many of these projects.

Each project was composed of a bunch of smaller activities along with a few key mindsets and principles. Sam was able to read through a range of design projects and understand the problems they were facing, how they approached solving those problems and the principles they used to move the project forward.

He blinked and realized his whole body was leaning forward into the screen. He looked out the window of the cafe and saw dozens of people passing by without looking at one another. His eyes glazed over and his thoughts took the place of what he was seeing.

Sam shook his head and looked back at the screen. He realized that for the first time he understood this concept of human-centered design. He’d heard about UX before and all of these terms that were being thrown around, but he’d never been able to see at a glance how all of these ideas worked together to solve real problems for real people.

That was the tagline of the site “Helping Designers Solve Real Problems for Real People”. It suddenly made sense to him.

The way that these problems were being defined was in the context of real human needs&mdahsh;not within the context of technology.

That’s why he never ‘got’ web design. It was all about the technology. It was all about the code and the software and the tools.

This was different. This made it seem incredibly simple.

He read through a few more projects and looked in one of the conversations. Based on the conversation he could tell that there was some kind of design school where they were using this platform to discuss their project.

A few clicks later and he found himself staring at a website of a new kind of design school: A place where everyone is a student and everyone is a teacher. They believed in highly-empowered cross-functional teams and radical collaboration. They believed in conversation over documentation and they believed in helping each of their students achieve their personal goals. The curriculum was different for each student. Instead of placing their students on a rigid curriculum, they spent the first week mentoring the student and trying to help them define a personal purpose statement. Each student had a mentor who was dedicated to helping them succeed.

Sam read through the testimonials of students who had been through the course. Some of the students weren’t beginners, some of them were successful professionals who wanted to take a different path or take their career to the next level. They used words like “changed my life”, “unlike any other school” ,“working on real startups makes all the difference”, and “the community is everything”.

Sam clicked the ‘Contact’ button and looked up the school’s address. Apparently there was a train that went from Victoria Station to Brighton in roughly an hour. And they ran throughout the day. Sam looked at the black hands of the white-faced clock on the cafe wall. It was 2:30. The next train was at 3:45.

He looked back at the screen and wondered if he needed to call them. There was a little blurb on the contact page that said they had open days with free beer on Friday afternoons after 4pm.

Everything was falling into place. He closed his laptop and wrapped up his charger. As he shoved the last of his things into his rucksack he headed for the door. Outside there was a little girl that reminded him of his daughter Hope. She was blond-haired and blue eyed with little pig tails and pink hair ties. This girl was a few months older than Hope. He looked at her and saw her father bring her into his arms. She giggled and smiled as he held her above his head.

Sam realized that he was staring and didn’t want to seem rude. So he put his head down and walked out the cafe towards the nearest tube station. As he walked away he couldn’t help but turn around and get one last glance of the young girl and her father.

He looked at the father’s eyes and saw something Sam had never know before: Purpose. A deep sense of purpose emanated from his smile. He was confident, but not in an arrogant way—confident in the way of knowing “why am I here?”. Sam walked swiftly towards the station and felt the strange tingle of the unknown reach out to him from a distance. After he purchased his ticket and found the right platform he walked down the train to find a seat with a table so that he could draw on the train ride.

Sam looked up from his sketchbook several pages later and saw a passenger sitting across from him. She nodded his head and said that she liked his drawing. He said, “Thanks.”

She asked, “So why are you headed to Brighton?”

He couldn’t help but smile...


I know that a 6-page short story isn't going to be an effective way of communicating a product / service concept to project stakeholders, but it was an effective exercise for me to return to the hero and the hero's journey that sparked this idea. It only made sense to plug the value propositions back into the story and see if it made sense.

What role was this product or service playing in this hero's journey? What obstacles does this hero need to overcome in order to engage with the product or service we're proposing?

It seemed like the project at the value proposition design stage was all about words, positioning and concepts. I wanted to strip that back and return to the people for which it was originally designed and initially conceived.

I asked Ellen de Vries to read the story from the lens of a 'formative' artifact that was designed to help clarify the proudct / service to the team members. We'll see what kind of feedback I get from Ellen about the effectiveness of the artifact from that perspective.

In case you can't tell, I'm really having fun with this story / ux mashup process. I'd be interested to hear your opinion as well. Drop me a line or send me a tweet.