An Event Apart: Silo-Busting with Scenarios

by Luke Wroblewski April 1, 2012

In her Silo-Busting with Scenarios talk at An Event Apart in Seattle, WA 2012 Kim Goodwin described the value of using scenarios as a design tool and walked through an example of how. Here's my notes from her talk:

  • Scenarios help with design decisions from overall experience down to layout issues. They also (more importantly) help with a lot of organizational problems that can prevent good design from being shipped.
  • Scenarios are a plausible story about a persona using the future product or service from start to finish.
  • If you use use cases and user stories and they are working for you –keep using them. But scenarios can you help even if you do use these tools as they do different things for your design process.

Why Scenarios?

  • If people get excited about our designs, it’s much easier to get it built. Less negotiation is needed and less time is spent trying to convince others.
  • Storytelling is a compelling human communication experience. Stories are emotional and even CEOs (and decision makers) are susceptible to emotion.
  • Early in our design process we don’t need analytical and detailed thinking. We need generative ideas and stories are great for that.
  • Scenarios don’t use roles. Roles are jobs but also a system component. This strips us of what makes us human. Humans have fears, goals, different priorities, etc. We need to consider all of this in design.
  • We need to get our company to root for our users.
  • Personas are derived from contextual data. They have goals, context, a set of skills, and are described as people. If you don’t want to use personas, use an actual user instead.
  • Scenarios can help breakdown silos and silos are arguably the biggest impediment to creating great experiences. Silos exist in web sites, organizations, and in our ways of thinking. Scenarios can help change the way we think.

Developing Scenarios

  • There are several types of personas to consider for an industry like air travel: frequent flyers, infrequent fliers, etc. Researching these personas is best done with ethnographic fieldwork and accompanied by stakeholders.
  • Each persona needs 1 or more scenarios. Include situations with an ordinary amount of variation in addition to the most common ones.
  • Start with a look at the whole experience. This can include services other than your own. Spend time analyzing the complete journey. Identify the tools and steps within the journey and how people are feeling along the way. A journey map can help visualize things.
  • Identify the things you can fix. Where are people forced to work, are frustrated, or are unsure?
  • Add something unexpectedly good. Evangelism takes more than usability. Pay attention to things that people aren’t complaining about for opportunities.
  • When thinking about how to delight, imagine your persona is having a conversation with another human being or an intelligent assistant. Don’t anthropomorphize: you can act like human without being one. Think what a human would do, and do that.
  • Tell the story. You don’t need written prose. Even bullet points will work. The story should be bigger than your Web site. That’s ok –you’re just starting the conversation.
  • You need to sell the story. When you do, you’ll hear people say “we can’t do that.” This may be true but often not 100% true. It usually means resources are just allocated elsewhere.
  • Reframe the discussion to agree that a scenario is desirable. Then talk about what it would take to get things done. What would it take?
  • We’ll never get everything we ask for so focusing down is important. You can focus by expanding on elements of the scenario and stretching thing appropriately.
  • These expanded scenarios can guide rough storyboards and screens. Rough out one storyboard for each scenario. Look for convergence between scenarios and start integrating where possible in your designs.
  • Scenarios can drive the structure of the site and the roadmap to get things done. Chunk things down by scenarios not features so you can maintain a coherent experience between releases.
  • When moving to layout designs, check what’s in your designs against other personas. This will help you accommodate the differences between personas.
  • Scenarios help you focus on the human aspect of design.
  • If you can control the story, you can drive change in an organization.