User Scenarios: Simulations for Better UI


You have your cast of characters, but the plot is still lacking. After you’ve nished your research and created a group of personas based on your target users, one of the best ways to connect mindset to action is by creating user scenarios. User scenarios are thought exercises where you map out the actions of each persona from the rst point of interaction with your website to when they complete a goal.

If your personas cannot achieve their goals or if the process is too convoluted, then you now have a visual representation of your problem and can go back and solve
it easily. User scenarios are one of the best way to test your site structure because they isolate problems before they become problems and also help you think of ways to improve your structure. Just as with personas, the more actual research and less guesswork, the better. We’ll explain how to turn personas into user scenarios and analyze a real user scenario.


Step one in creating a scenario is to create realistic goals for your personas. From there, it is just a logic puzzle. When it comes to user scenarios, there are three main categories: goal-based scenarios, elaborated scenarios, and full task scenarios. Goal-based are the most straightforward while elaborated scenarios read more like “persona stories”. We won’t describe all of them in detail here, but we will provide a process that is helpful regardless of scenario type.

Each user scenario starts with a user story, structured as “As a [role], [the persona] wants to [complete this action] so they can [ful ll this goal]”. A user scenario will then expand upon user stories by including details about how your system could be interpreted, experienced, and used. Ben Hunt, creator of Web Design From Scratch, believes that scenarios add elasticity to personas by lling in the “why” behind the “who”. When creating user scenarios, you should consider:

  • The persona’s environment — Where are they when they interact with your web site? Are they at work? At a co ee shop? Or at home?
  • Any factors that impact the context of use — How fast and stable is their Internet connection? How much time do they have? What distractions are there?
    • Triggering events & goals — What speci c goal motivates the persona to interact with the web site on this occasion? What event triggered this scenario?
    • Persona behavior — Visualize the scene. What considerations are most important in the persona’s mind? What clues are they looking for in particular?


To introduce teamwork into the process, you can also follow this collaborative 13-step guide to creating user scenarios.


Let’s look at a real-life example for the website of LUX, an international arts agency based in London. A non-pro t charity, LUX provides access to various types of video art through their website and gives developmental support for moving image artists.

The whole process starts with a persona, Harriet, and her problem — her motivation for using the site. The hypothetical user story could be that “As a local art event organizer, Harriet needs to nd a great lm for her December event so that the event sells out and her boss loves her”.

As you can see by the user scenario ow chart, Harriet makes her entry on the Homepage and conducts a search. After exploring some options, she nds a lm that interests her, but only after viewing a clip. She then reads some details about the lm, including reviews from both LUX and other searchers, plus bookmarks the artist for later screenings. Finally she puts the lm in her basket and hires the artist during checkout. She has successfully completed her goal of nding a lm.
Note that many details regarding motivations and thought processes are laid out on the chart, giving whoever reviews the fullest understanding possible. Because this can get confusing, color-coding based on the di erent pages can be helpful. Also note that the “Explore” and “Search” phase seemed to be cyclical — an important detail for the company to know.

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