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Designing with Scenarios: Putting Personas to Work – Monday, November 8

Scenarios remove the guesswork for your design process

Kim Goodwin

Kim Goodwin
Consultant and author of Designing for the Digital Age

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What’s the breakdown of the day?

Morning: Fundamentals—Personas & Scenarios

Good stories start with strong characters, so Kim will start the day by demystifying the common misconceptions about personas. She’ll walk you through the qualities that make a data–driven persona effective, while helping you avoid the many pitfalls people fall into when they try building personas on their own.

Most of the day will focus on scenarios. A persona without a scenario is like a character without a plot—nice to look at, but how do you get value from them? When you combine personas with scenarios, you get a powerful set of tools for imagining, iterating, and communicating about a compelling user experience.

Kim will introduce you to several types of scenarios for different purposes. You’ll see how scenarios are different from both use cases and user stories. (It’s ironic, but for many agile teams, user stories aren’t stories at all. A good scenario has all the elements of a good story, and that’s what makes them so useful.)

After that, you’ll dive deep into context scenarios: ambitious, generative tools you can use to envision a future product or an entire cross–channel experience. You’ll learn great techniques, like how working with a design partner helps you be more creative and truer to your persona data. Kim will give you a chance to practice all this throughout the day with some fun exercises, ranging from a broad service design problem to a more constrained product design.

Afternoon: Putting Scenarios to Work

After lunch, you’ll learn how context scenarios and persona goals can help you identify and prioritize the most critical requirements, allowing you to focus on things that make the biggest mark with users. Then you’ll jump right into storyboarding and sketching the key interaction pathways using more detailed scenarios. You’ll see how a series of scenarios starring different personas can help you balance divergent user needs. After you start sketching, you’ll use validation scenarios to explore the edge cases and make sure you provide a consistently awesome experience for the full range of situations your users might encounter.

Kim will wrap up the day with communication scenarios you can use to persuade stakeholders, guide development, or even get early feedback from users.

When the day is done, you’ll be able to assess the effectiveness of your personas. You’ll know how to create compelling scenarios based on real data about your users and their needs, helping you move faster and produce better results. Kim will show you ways to be both creative and evaluative with your scenarios, and techniques for selling your design and bringing everybody in the organization along with you.

Does your team face these problems?

  • You have trouble developing or prioritizing requirements for your designs.
  • It’s difficult to get people to think outside of their silos and look at a user's whole experience with your brand.
  • You want to visualize what future experience should be like and help others see it.
  • You’re frustrated by the effort it takes to make team decisions.
  • You want to develop a shared understanding of where your product, site, or service is going.
  • It's difficult wading through impenetrable requirements documents.
  • The team struggles to make use cases or user stories fit into your design process.

Why scenarios?

Scenarios are the engine we use to drive our designs. A scenario tells us WHY our users need our design, WHAT the users need the design to do, and HOW they need our design to do it. A great set of scenarios captures the essence of the design we’re creating.

A proven technique for innovation.

Compared to long-winded and impossible-to-read functional requirement specifications, when done well, scenarios are bite-sized adventures of our users. They put the design into context, giving us a tool to identify the critical functionality while they help us to decide quickly what can wait for a future release. They tell us what language to use and what the flow of the screens should be. They help us expand on what our products and services are all about.

Because scenarios are stories, they come to life for the team. They exploit a human desire: to tell and to hear stories. Hearing about the life of our user as they try to accomplish an important activity is far more compelling than reading about User Requirement Revised (“The user must have a login access screen available in key interaction points.”). Imagine that?

Armed with a complete set of well-thought-through scenarios, your team will be ready to produce innovative designs that will put a ding in the universe.

How will designing with scenarios make you a hero?

Look at what’s been happening:

A team at a medical device manufacturer looks at their recently compiled scenarios and suddenly sees several new markets they could easily move into—markets currently ignored by their competitors.

Get a better design faster.

At an e-commerce retailer, simple scenarios revealed how their site’s registration process was a huge barrier. Within weeks, the team saw a 33% increase in sales and a significant decrease in abandoned shopping carts.

Another medical device company re-crafted their design process to include scenarios. The new approach cut their overall product development time in half, while dramatically increasing cross-team collaboration.

We’ve seen these stories dozens of times: The team learns scenario-building techniques. The team builds research-based scenarios. The team sees immediate process improvements and innovative design results.

Who wouldn’t want an easier way to get to great designs? Who wouldn’t want to be more creative and more imaginative? Who wouldn’t want to be truer to the data they’ve collected about their users?

You’ll suddenly have a powerful persuasion tool at your disposal. You’ll show the power of your designs simply by telling a story about a user’s adventures.

As Uncle Ben told us, with great power comes great responsibility. Use your new-found powers wisely, so nobody gets hurt.

What makes this workshop exciting?

Kim’s techniques for creating scenarios are perfect for both traditional waterfall teams and those organizations practicing more agile development processes. She’s collected a variety of research techniques that easily match to the resources and constraints of the team. Need something quick-and-dirty? Kim has tools for that. Is it time to do the deep dive and fully research what your users are all about? Kim can help there too.

“Oh wow! You don’t just make the scenarios up! There’s rigor here.”

If you’ve tried personas before, but they didn’t quite take, Kim’s approach to scenarios will revitalize them. Your personas will take on a new life in your design process and now live up to their original promise.

For those who’ve always wanted to try a persona-based approach, you’ll see what the endgame looks like. This will help you avoid the traps that many teams fall into because they aren’t sure what to do with the personas once they’ve built them.

You see, the versatility of scenarios makes them a powerful design tool. When we need to focus on the big picture, we can construct stories about how our design fits into the world and improves our users' lives. When we need to home in on specific functionality, we can create other scenarios that tell us what the individual design elements should say and do.

Who would have thought it could be this easy to see the directions your designs should take?

Why did we pick Kim?

Nobody has more experience bringing personas and scenarios to design teams than Kim Goodwin. Much of the modern thinking about using personas and scenarios in design came from her thinking while she was VP of Design at Cooper. And her new book, Designing for the Digital Age, is a treasure trove for anyone who wants to ramp up their design skills to the next level.

Kim has vast experience with building personas and scenarios.

We’ve learned that Kim has many impressive attributes, but one that jumps out at us every time we talk to her is how experienced she is. You immediately get the impression that she’s been there. Throw any design situation her way and she instantly responds with a project she’s worked on and how they got through that problem.

Kim has spoken at so many of our events, we’ve lost track. Yet, we keep asking her back because every audience loves her. In several instances, we’ve had to come in and clear the room because people didn’t want to let her go home!

If you haven’t had the chance to see Kim speak, you owe it to yourself to fix that right away.

What’s the next step?

If Kim’s workshop isn’t quite what you’re looking for, explore the other 7 workshops. There’s also a whole day of Featured Talks with all the UI15 experts.