methods personas scenarios

Scenarios are your product ideas

“Turn that frown upside-down” – Take the pain points that you discovered in your user research and re-write them as positive experiences for your customers. These scenarios provide you with new product ideas.

Create actionable product ideas

Qualitative user research data like an experience map gives you great insight into the problems that your users face in their work. What’s even better is knowing how you might address those problems in your product.

Scenario writing allows you to describe an ideal future where your users can get their work done without all the problems they face today. What makes scenarios believable is that you include the mechanism by which they achieve their happy outcome.

Describing methods in scenarios

Look at the wording on patents. In the software world, they are usually described as “A method for…” That is because patents are formed around unique product ideas. Although I’m not suggesting that you’re going to end up with a massive patent portfolio from this exercise, what you are going to do is describe methods for making your users successful, so that you can extract product ideas from these methods. 

That doesn’t mean describing the interface, like whether the person using this product clicks a check box or uses a carousel. It’s enough just to say “chooses an option” or “finds the item they need” at this point. In fact, if you describe the interface you will just constrain yourself in later design stages.

Start writing

For each of the high level areas that you observed during user research (“User Activities” in your experience map), write a scenario that describes a new way of working, using a future version of your product.

a persona stuck on the wall next to a scenario written for that persona
A persona stuck on the wall next to a scenario written for that persona

Each scenario should detail a day in the life of someone like the people you visited (a persona). Don’t describe specific UI yet… that’s the next step. Instead, describe behaviors and outcomes.

I like to list out each step in the story on separate sticky notes. As you write the scenario down, you’ll undoubtedly find that you need to add or remove pieces to the previous stages of the story. It’s much easier to rearrange or edit your scenario if each step is written in separate, moveable sections.

Obviously you will put a positive spin on the outcome of each scenario, but that’s the point! Be sure to include the steps that somebody would take to reach their outcome (the method), so that it remains realistic. Sorry, no jet packs or teleportation devices, unless you have plans to build them.

Personas will give you more focus

It’s worth developing thumbnail personas before you create the scenarios, so that your user’s behaviors are realistic and consistent. One persona may star in several scenarios. Indeed, personas may well cross paths or hand work off to each other within a scenario.

the relationship of personas and scenarios: each scenario is built around a persona

All team members can and should be involved in this process, but the writing tends to happen best in pairs. If two people sit down together they can tell each other story fragments until they have arrived at a whole scenario.

For that reason, get different team members to work in pairs on different scenarios. Using the same small set of personas means that you will maintain some consistency between the output from different groups.

What next?

Now that you’ve detailed the methods that users could employ to reach the outcomes they want, it’s time to come up with some design ideas for how those could be implemented. A great approach for this is the design charrette.