Virgil

Virgil

A Storybuilding tool for the modern era

A Storybuilding tool for the modern era

Role: Sole Designer

Tools Used: Figma

Virgil is a product concept I created for my Master’s thesis. It is a tool for authors that helps them write via a timeline-based approach.

Context

While there are seemingly more opportunities than ever to make money from writing, authors are struggling to make a living. Publishing houses are consolidating, making for a less competitive market and offering worse contracts to authors. And the looming threat of AI only compounds authors’ anxiety.

Desktop Research & Gap Analysis

There are almost countless word processors for writers to choose from plus accessory tools like grammar checkers and now AI assistants. However, most of these are used by students or copywriters, not authors who tend to stick to MS Word or Google Docs.

A gap analysis of word processors marketed towards authors reveal that authors seem to appreciate 4 key features: Organizational tools, the ability to edit sections individually, .doc format support and offline access.

There are almost countless word processors for writers to choose from plus accessory tools like grammar checkers and now AI assistants. However, most of these are used by students or copywriters, not authors who tend to stick to MS Word or Google Docs.

A gap analysis of word processors marketed towards authors reveal that authors seem to appreciate 4 key features: Organizational tools, the ability to edit sections individually, .doc format support and offline access.

There are almost countless word processors for writers to choose from plus accessory tools like grammar checkers and now AI assistants. However, most of these are used by students or copywriters, not authors who tend to stick to MS Word or Google Docs.

A gap analysis of word processors marketed towards authors reveal that authors seem to appreciate 4 key features: Organizational tools, the ability to edit sections individually, .doc format support and offline access.

There are almost countless word processors for writers to choose from plus accessory tools like grammar checkers and now AI assistants. However, most of these are used by students or copywriters, not authors who tend to stick to MS Word or Google Docs.

A gap analysis of word processors marketed towards authors reveal that authors seem to appreciate 4 key features: Organizational tools, the ability to edit sections individually, .doc format support and offline access.

Gap analysis of word processors

User Research & Insights

In user interviews I found that they generally all seemed to be overwhelmed. Authors today have many tasks apart from putting words on the page; they have to deal with contract negotiations, run marketing campaigns via social media, try to get libraries and bookstores to actually carry their book, etc.

The only aspect of all of this that authors enjoy is the writing, so while they would consider other tools besides Word and Google Docs that offer some niche features besides word processing, they don’t have the time to spare learning a new program when they should be using every spare minute for writing.

In user interviews I found that they generally all seemed to be overwhelmed. Authors today have many tasks apart from putting words on the page; they have to deal with contract negotiations, run marketing campaigns via social media, try to get libraries and bookstores to actually carry their book, etc.

The only aspect of all of this that authors enjoy is the writing, so while they would consider other tools besides Word and Google Docs that offer some niche features besides word processing, they don’t have the time to spare learning a new program when they should be using every spare minute for writing.

In user interviews I found that they generally all seemed to be overwhelmed. Authors today have many tasks apart from putting words on the page; they have to deal with contract negotiations, run marketing campaigns via social media, try to get libraries and bookstores to actually carry their book, etc.

The only aspect of all of this that authors enjoy is the writing, so while they would consider other tools besides Word and Google Docs that offer some niche features besides word processing, they don’t have the time to spare learning a new program when they should be using every spare minute for writing.

In user interviews I found that they generally all seemed to be overwhelmed. Authors today have many tasks apart from putting words on the page; they have to deal with contract negotiations, run marketing campaigns via social media, try to get libraries and bookstores to actually carry their book, etc.

The only aspect of all of this that authors enjoy is the writing, so while they would consider other tools besides Word and Google Docs that offer some niche features besides word processing, they don’t have the time to spare learning a new program when they should be using every spare minute for writing.

Archetypes

Graph of author archetypes

Authors can be grouped into 4 archetypes on a matrix according to their writing experience and their willingness to adopt new technology.

If you’re an author that maybe has published a book in your spare time and you’re just using Google Docs because it’s free. Then you’re a Hobbyist type of writer.

Above them we have a Veteran. Maybe they’ve been writing books in Word since 2003 and they’re sticking with it because they know it works.

But as the willingness to adopt technology goes up we get archetypes like the Techie and Trailblazer. Maybe they have written a lot of books, maybe they are just starting out, but they are always looking for the next thing to help make their workflow better, more efficient.

Authors can be grouped into 4 archetypes on a matrix according to their writing experience and their willingness to adopt new technology.

If you’re an author that maybe has published a book in your spare time and you’re just using Google Docs because it’s free. Then you’re a Hobbyist type of writer.

Above them we have a Veteran. Maybe they’ve been writing books in Word since 2003 and they’re sticking with it because they know it works.

But as the willingness to adopt technology goes up we get archetypes like the Techie and Trailblazer. Maybe they have written a lot of books, maybe they are just starting out, but they are always looking for the next thing to help make their workflow better, more efficient.

Authors can be grouped into 4 archetypes on a matrix according to their writing experience and their willingness to adopt new technology.

If you’re an author that maybe has published a book in your spare time and you’re just using Google Docs because it’s free. Then you’re a Hobbyist type of writer.

Above them we have a Veteran. Maybe they’ve been writing books in Word since 2003 and they’re sticking with it because they know it works.

But as the willingness to adopt technology goes up we get archetypes like the Techie and Trailblazer. Maybe they have written a lot of books, maybe they are just starting out, but they are always looking for the next thing to help make their workflow better, more efficient.

Authors can be grouped into 4 archetypes on a matrix according to their writing experience and their willingness to adopt new technology.

If you’re an author that maybe has published a book in your spare time and you’re just using Google Docs because it’s free. Then you’re a Hobbyist type of writer.

Above them we have a Veteran. Maybe they’ve been writing books in Word since 2003 and they’re sticking with it because they know it works.

But as the willingness to adopt technology goes up we get archetypes like the Techie and Trailblazer. Maybe they have written a lot of books, maybe they are just starting out, but they are always looking for the next thing to help make their workflow better, more efficient.

How Might We

Okay, so how might we make a tool that works for all of these people AND is worth switching to?

Concept

Virgil is a storybuilding tool that allows writers to seamlessly build up their manuscript, starting with an outline, via its canvas with a synchronous timeline.

In addition it also stores its files locally (or in the user’s cloud storage service of choice) and features info sheets which are documents separate to the timeline that house reference information for the author like character details to keep track of or even images.

Example Flow

Video walkthrough of example use case

Information Architecture & Layout

Example Virgil screen

There are a couple of important things to note about the design. Namely the information architecture and the layout. Instead of getting lost in a bunch of different pages, we have a workspace that is similar to a browser in that it has tabs. You can open and close them at will and this does two things: it’s intuitive to use since everyone is familiar with browsers so even non-Techie users can easily use the app and it also makes the space modular. Users can open up multiple scenes they are working in or have the canvas open next to the manuscript to see reordering happen live and synchronously. Or they can just open one document to stay focused on it, even hiding the navigation panel for a distraction-free writing session.

User Testing & Feedback

User testing was conducted via virtual meetings with users sharing their screen containing a prototype made in Figma.

The result: the general flow in which you would use the app was intuitive, but more importantly really useful.

User testing was conducted via virtual meetings with users sharing their screen containing a prototype made in Figma.

The result: the general flow in which you would use the app was intuitive, but more importantly really useful.

User testing was conducted via virtual meetings with users sharing their screen containing a prototype made in Figma.

The result: the general flow in which you would use the app was intuitive, but more importantly really useful.

User testing was conducted via virtual meetings with users sharing their screen containing a prototype made in Figma.

The result: the general flow in which you would use the app was intuitive, but more importantly really useful.

There were a few things that should be changed or would need to be learned with a first-time walkthrough. And there were some suggestions for minor additive features that would make it better. But there was also the discovery of a missing critical feature.

Things to Change

Scene and Manuscript icons were not distinct

Scene and Manuscript icons were not distinct

“Add Margin Note” button was not affordant

Things to Add

Add scene by dragging & dropping highlighted text

Add scene by dragging & dropping highlighted text

Add scene by dragging & dropping highlighted text

User testing feedback

Virgil needs a seamless way to share the manuscript back and forth with the user’s publisher.

“...[it’s one of] the most important thing[s] I have to consider when deciding which program to use”
- User tester #6

While collaborative writing is not necessary for most authors, they do need a way to share their work and then receive feedback in a way that allows them to keep writing without having to import documents or go between applications. Because Microsoft Word is the standard for the publishing industry, this is often the software necessitated because the publishers will mark up manuscripts in Word and send them back. So if the user isn’t using Word then they’ll have to import the manuscript back into their software of choice and the markups could be corrupted. Google Docs is another good method for this feedback process because it sidesteps the need for software altogether by being hosted on the web.

Possibilities for the Future

Virgil should probably switch to being a web app like Google Docs, but it would likely be difficult to get users to trust the service such that they wouldn’t lose their work if the service disappears. Another solution may be to simply harness the power of Google Docs and Drive and become an integrated service much like Miro has, with the ability to reference Google Docs on the canvas as card previews and create a shareable manuscript Doc concatenating all documents on the timeline.