Kim Goodwin – Designing with Scenarios: Putting Personas to Work

Sean Carmichael

June 24th, 2011

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Storytelling is a natural form of expression. We’ve all told stories since we were young. Scenarios are the stories that drive design decisions. They put the design into the context of how and why the user will interact with it.

Kim Goodwin is an expert when it comes to developing scenarios. In her virtual seminar, Designing with Scenarios: Putting Personas to Work, she uses her immense experience to outline the relationship between personas and scenarios and how to bring them into your design process. Kim graciously returns to answer the questions she did not have time to address during the seminar for this podcast.

Here’s an excerpt from the podcast.

“I think that you certainly can do this without data. It’s always a great idea to have data if you can, ’cause it has a few benefits, right? One is, you’re more confident that you’re getting to a good answer. And it makes it a lot easier to make design decisions because instead of wondering, “hmm. How would people like this react?” You kind of know.

Think of it like, you know, planning an event, or buying a gift for one of your loved ones, versus, say, buying a gift for your brand-new in-laws, whom you don’t know very well.

The first one is a whole lot easier than the second one, and data really helps you have that confidence that you’re doing the right thing. And the second point is that data helps you persuade stakeholders, because then it’s not you, the designer — who is probably pretty low on the totem pole, so to speak — saying this is how it should be. It’s you, the designer, channeling the users and saying, “Look, based on our data, here’s how people think and act, and so here’s why this is a great solution.”

Now, that said, I definitely do scenarios without data. I was doing a project just a couple of weeks ago, actually, working with some subject matter experts on an idea for a medical thing, just a little startup company. And so, four of us sat in a room, and we didn’t have data. And the point was to get to some design ideas fairly quickly, so that they could explore feasibility of this idea.

And so, it didn’t make a lot of sense for us to go get data, and we said, “OK, let’s build some shared assumptions about the kinds of users we’re talking about.” We came up with what I call provisional personas, which are sort of just sketchy representations of what we think the usage patterns and goals are. And then we use those to create scenarios just as we normally would.

So, scenarios are a tool you can pull out of your pocket regardless of whether you have data. They’re equally effective as generation tools. You’re just going to be making decisions and communicating with a bit less confidence when you don’t have data. But the tool still works great…”

Tune in to the podcast to hear Kim address these additional questions:

  • What’s a good approach to get buy-in from non-UX stakeholders, and prove the value of building the personas and then creating the scenarios?
  • To what extent should scenarios come from your clients or stakeholders?
  • How do you use personas to help inform a solution that will work for a broader range of personas?
  • What’s the best way to communicate your scenarios with the development team and get their buy-in for what you’ve created?
  • What is the difference between a scenario and a storyboard?
  • Do scenarios live beyond the project they’re developed for?

Do you have experience using scenarios? Please share any thoughts or comments in our comments section.

Want to learn more? Get lifetime access to Designing with Scenarios: Putting Personas to Work for just $109 when you use the promotion code SPOOLCAST.

Recorded: June, 2011
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