An Event Apart: Silo-Busting with Scenarios

by Luke Wroblewski February 18, 2013

In her Silo-Busting with Scenarios talk at An Event Apart in Atlanta, GA 2013 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:

  • The structures we set up in our organizations narrow our problem definitions and our solutions. Team don't focus on the big picture and instead just look at their narrow slice of an organization's goals: their silo.
  • Almost all the time our customers want to cross our silos to get things done. When they do, they often end up in UX purgatory: in between states that no one at the organization "owns".
  • Wonder things can happen when you think bigger than your silo.
  • We need to define our problems like our users do. This allows us to see past artificial barriers in our organizations.

Why Scenarios?

  • 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.
  • Scenarios are a plausible story about a persona using the future product or service from start to finish.
  • Personas allow us to humanize the people we create products for. We need the people we work with to care about our customers.
  • 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.
  • Good design processes change over time. At the start, things are generative. Story telling is well suited to this phase.
  • Use cases are more valuable when you are in a more iterative and analytical phase of design.
  • Early in our design process we don’t need analytical and detailed thinking. We need generative ideas and stories are great for that.

Developing Scenarios

  • The first rule of user research is to forget what you are building. Its a distraction that focuses you on small details.
  • Instead focus on getting to know people first and foremost. Listen to their stories and look for patterns.
  • 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.
  • 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 things 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.
  • When moving to layout designs, check what’s in your designs against other personas. This will help you accommodate the differences between personas.
  • 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.
  • Scenarios help you define problems as users do -not as the organization does.
  • If you can control the story, you can drive change in an organization.
  • Get your company to root for your users.