Using Scrivener for UX design

If you’re a writer of any stripe you will have come across numerous recommendations for Scrivener as the ultimate tool for collating research, scribbling down ideas and finding the structure of the story you’re trying to tell.

In fact, though it’s marketed as software for novelists, Scrivener’s powerful feature set is a boon to anyone who needs to wrangle large amounts of information.

I’ve used Scrivener almost exclusively since 2007, so when I made the switch from journalism to user experience(UX) design, I didn’t think twice about keeping it at the centre of my working environment. After all, so much of UX hinges on decent story-telling that it felt like a perfectly natural progression.

So, what exactly makes Scrivener so damn cool?

Disclaimer: I’m not in any way affiliated to Scrivener or Literature & Latte Ltd – I am just a really, really happy customer.

3 killer features
Scrivener derives its mojo from its multiple ways to manage and massage what you put into it. You can read more about Scrivener’s numerous other features at the official site; this is a roundup of the three features I find most useful for helping to capture, review and synthesise information.

See the bigger picture emerge through index cards
Scrivener offers a visual representation of individual text documents as index cards on a corkboard. This proves invaluable for gaining an overview of your content and for shuffling it about as you see fit — either in a neatly ordered grid or in ‘creative chaos’ mode.

The cards/texts can be nested and re-ordered in any way, which makes it easy to capture fragments of information and then piece together the whole – particularly useful during the discovery phase of a project.

I also find the corkboard view especially useful for gathering the user stories that accompany and flesh out process or task flows. You can resize the index cards and specify how many you want to appear per row, and by setting and displaying meta-data, you can colour code cards for quick grouping and differentiation.

Keep it meta with Labels & Status
Without a doubt one of the most powerful and handy features is the general meta-data which Scrivener allows you to associate with each card. The ‘synopsis’ is visible in the corkboard view and helps you refer back to the content of the document (or as I like to think of it, the flip side of the card).

Now we come to the meaty bit — the general meta-data which includes options for a label, a status and a view on the date that document was created and last modified. I find this extremely helpful for keeping on top of copy-writing tasks.

You can customise the titles by which you refer to a label or a status and you can also customise both labels and statuses.

The examples below are from the Scrivener file I use to manage all web and email copy for Here, the label refers to where the copy is used, e.g. in-app, in the emails to customers, etc.

The label colour can be customised and displayed in the corkboard view. The status of a document can also be revealed in this view as ‘stamps’ on the cards. I’ve changed the statuses of these documents to illustrate:

Run the final sanity check with Scrivenings
The cherry on top is the ‘Scrivenings’ view, the one that brings all or some of your documents together in a single editable view. This is the point at which you can see if the story you’re telling rings true; if what you’re working on hangs together logically and tells the complete tale. Any gaps or flaws become glaringly obvious at this stage, making this the equivalent of the last look in the mirror before you leave the house.

There is so much amazing functionality under the hood that this post barely scratches the scratch that would scratch the surface were the surface to be scratched.

That’s what makes Scrivener such a joy to work with – its impressive array of tools tends to stay out of the way until you think, “I wish I could…” and then, hey presto, you discover that Scrivener’s founder and lead developer
Keith (Blount) is already two steps ahead of you. For all you Windows users out there, this means the great news is that Scrivener is finally in beta for Windows.

Design starts with thought. For me, writing is the act of thinking, which is why for my money, Scrivener really is the ideal design tool.



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