Scenarios are descriptive or pictorial stories of the users or personas we are designing for. Scenarios involve a user performing certain actions or simulations to accomplish a goal. It also involves using a product, service or prototype to accomplish certain goals in their day-to-day activities or otherwise. Scenario stories also help researchers figure user objectives. It can be employed at the time of usability testing to determine the extent to which a product can capture value or resolve a challenge a user is facing.

Quick details: Scenarios

Structure: Structured, Semi-structured

Preparation: User description, Stories

Deliverables: Storyboards, Descriptive situations

More about Scenarios

Scenarios are focused towards problem resolution or solution design. Therefore, the format of scenario stories is challenging or situations where the user faces a problem, which would lead them to use a product or seek resolution. The scenario stories can be played out in a role-play format where the researcher can play the user’s role or the actual users participate role-play. Additionally, the researchers can also act out as character profiles that may have been developed during the preliminary research or observation phase.

As scenarios take into account the user motivations behind using a product or availing a service offering, mapping scenarios help formalize ideas developed during the ideation phase. Scenarios also take into account the basic user needs, which allow capturing the most important interactions of the users with a product or service. Before scenario mapping, it is important to first develop the personas for which the scenarios need to be mapped. A point to note is that scenarios do not account for all possible users who may use a design. Again, it is not imperative to map all the possible scenarios but all the important scenarios. Good scenario mapping means that the scenarios are relatable, most commonly occurring, take the user’s context into account and accurately capture the details of the problem that the design is meant to solve.

Scenarios can be used at the ideation phase as well as at the usability-testing phase of the design project. This will help in figuring how the user will use a product, when will it be used, how close to requirement are the design specifications, among other questions. Sometimes, it beneficial to recruit different researchers to define personas and the one who map scenarios as knowing the users first-hand or having had an interaction with them could bias the researchers to map the scenarios that they perceive as key for the users but which may not be the case.


Advantages of Scenarios

1. Creative problem solving

Scenarios allow the researcher’s imagination and creativity to extend beyond clichés. Though the scenario mapping exercise, the researchers think of all key situations that the user encounters when performing an action to achieve a goal when using a product or service.

2. Applications

Scenarios can be used at any stage of the design process from beginning to end in the form of themes or stories specific to the various relevant personas.

3. In-depth understanding

Scenarios help researchers understand the needs and motivations of the users as well as their context.


Disadvantages of Scenarios

1. Effective persona definitions

If the persona definition isn’t accurate i.e. the users whom the scenarios must be mapped aren’t the potential users of the designed solution, the whole scenario mapping exercise wouldn’t make sense.

2. Accurate Scenario mapping

As already mentioned, it is not important to map all the possible scenarios; only the key scenarios need to be mapped. Additionally, the level of detail and accuracy with which the scenarios are mapped – will determine the kind of insights that can be drawn from them.

3. Time and cost consuming

Scenario mapping must be carefully done. It requires a lot of time and cost investment to first define the personas with the help of the potential users and then recruiting experienced researchers to map scenarios.

Think Design's recommendation

Scenarios are a very powerful way of telling user stories in a descriptive or illustrative way that then can provide cues into structuring them in the form of documents. Generally speaking, we recommend discussing stories and then breaking them down into Scenarios that are detailed enough for ideation. At Think Design, making, discussing and ideating on scenarios is one of the most essential stages of UX or Service Design projects. Going forward, these Scenarios would cue in user stories and use cases that can be used as a foundation for writing use cases and planning design sprints.

One thing we recommend strongly is to use Scenarios as an ideation exercise, in that we discuss scenarios creatively and find alternative ways of helping users in those scenarios. Conducting this exercise as a mere stage gate will result in too obvious and known scenarios which may then not help you much in your innovation. Scenarios combined with role-reversal or role-play can generate magical results. Go for it!

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