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Chris Ashby
August 17, 2021

What Star Wars can teach us about great product design & user experience

Lessons in optimisation from Luke’s hero’s journey — from meeting Obi Wan Kenobi to facing Darth Vader

Photo by iam_os on Unsplash

Star Wars in many ways, is the perfect hero’s journey. It’s no wonder, George Lucas wrote it that way specifically.

The hero’s journey tells us a lot about how we behave and operate as human beings in the world. They show us problems and trauma through the eyes of a hero so that we might better know how to overcome those same conflicts when we face them in our own lives.

But how can we translate great stories, and great hero’s journeys, like the journey of Luke through the Star Wars trilogy, into usable insights that we can apply to our product designs in order to create incredible experiences our users will love?

Well, Lisa Cron writes in her book Wired for Story:

“…what draws us into a story and keeps us there is the firing of our dopamine neurons, signaling that intriguing information is on the way.”

Story is simply put, the biological way that we receive and interpret information in order to understand how we can live better lives. When we partake in a great story, our brain releases dopamine, a chemical signal that tells us ‘well done, you learnt something.’

That’s why great stories stick with us, and there are few greater stories than that of Luke Skywalker in Star Wars: A New Hope. A classic hero’s journey, reinterpreted in a sci-fi/fantasy setting (I can see you ready to message me about it not being fantasy, but you can’t deny lightsabers are just glorified swords!)

So what can we take away from Luke’s hero’s journey and re-apply in a useful way to the journey that our users are going through as they experience our product?

Here are 3 key lessons that you can apply.

Lesson 1 —Like Luke, your users will need to find their Obi Wan before crossing into the unknown

In the hero’s journey story structure, every hero finds their wise guide.

This is Obi Wan Kenobi for Luke Skywalker, Morpheus for Neo, Mister Miyagi for the Karate Kid. Every hero must find their wise guide in order to progress. To learn what they need to know to overcome their ultimate goal, their final obstacle.

And just like the heroes in our stories, our users need to find their wise guide as well.

They are searching for the answer to a problem, for someone to trust to answer their questions, for someone to guide them through a transformation, not to just sell them a product.

So ask yourself two questions as you design:

  • What transformation or problem are we helping our users overcome?
  • How can we present ourselves as the wise guide to help them achieve that transformation?

Find the questions they are asking, find the obstacles: both emotional and functional, and understand how you can best position yourself to answer them.

Lesson 2 — Like Luke, your users must enter their dark cave to face what they fear most

As Luke reaches the end of his time with Yoda (another wise guide figure), he learns that he must enter the dark cave and face his darkest fear. He doesn’t know until he enters the cave what he will find, and it is only upon entering the cave that he comes face to face with his father: Darth Vader.

This is foreshadowing, but also a metaphor for the journey that we all go through when we overcome our biggest and toughest obstacles in life.

The answer to our problems, the way we overcome our conflict, is to come face to face with the very thing we fear the most.

We spend our entire journey up to that point denying that we need to face it, refusing to accept that we have to enter the dark cave we fear the most. And your users are going through the very same journey.

Ask yourself:

  • What are our users scared of that is causing them to not take action?
  • What are our users greatest fears that they must face in order to transform?
  • How can we reduce the risk, and provide them with the information they need to finally face their darkest fear, and enter the cave to face it?

Our users must go through this transformation in order to complete their journey, in order to transform through your product or service.

The best thing we can do is simply to guide them.

Lesson 3 — Like Luke, your users will need to find allies along the way to help them

Our users, much like Luke, must find allies to help him before overcoming the problem he faces.

To rescue the princess, Luke must find the message (R2D2), find a way off Tatooine (Han Solo), and find someone who is capable of helping him (Obi Wan Kenobi).

For our users, this means we need to identify the problems our users face that they may not be able to overcome themselves, and then provide them with the support or advice they need, through people they can trust, in order to overcome those problems.

This could be someone on our team who can speak to them directly through a consultation, or it could be other users who have purchased from us through an open community that new users can join and ask questions in.

Ask yourself these questions:

  • What problems might our users be facing that they can’t overcome themselves?
  • How important is it that we help them overcome these problems in order for them to proceed?
  • Who is the best person to help them with this problem, and how can we introduce them to our users?

Once we find the way to guide our users through both the problems they can overcome themselves, and the ones they can’t, we will not only increase the number of users who use our product, but also increase their perceived value in our product, thus increasing the likelihood that they go on to become loyal customers.

Why the hero’s journey is so important for design

The hero’s journey, far from just teaching us these 3 lessons, also contains many more steps along the way, all of which correspond directly to points in our journey as we make decisions in life.

It directly reflects how we operate, and how we learn new skills and lessons about life, without having to go through them ourselves.

This is why stories have existed throughout history, and this is how we taught each other how to survive.

If you want to learn more about how the story of Star Wars: A New Hope breaks down in the hero’s journey story structure you can read this blog.

I hope you are able to use the hero’s journey to greater effect in order to deepen your understanding of the experience your users go through, and to design products that create truly memorable and resonating experiences.

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