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Writing Scenarios

What is a scenario?
A scenario is a story describing aspects of a user’s life, and it provides context as to how your product can play a role in their life. Scenarios are tied closely to personas, as personas are often used as the people about whom scenarios are written. Some scenarios are long and detailed, but others are very short. A scenario may look something like this:

Jennifer loves rock climbing. However, she wishes that there was a better way to discover new climbs than scouring the Internet.

While this scenario is simple, it gives an example of someone who will be a user for a new product and a desire she has in her life that you can help fulfill with your designs.

Why are scenarios useful?
Just as personas are helpful in describing specific people for whom to design, scenarios can be helpful in describing specific contexts in which your product will need to be used and usable. For example, let’s say that you are helping design an app that will allow your company to communicate better with one another. A scenario may start with your persona Jeff who is going to be flying out to Atlanta for a business conference. He wants to keep in touch with the rest of his coworkers while he is out of town to receive updates from the office and to provide them with snippets of what he is learning at the conference. We can infer a few things from this scenario: (1) Jeff will be traveling, so he may not have access to Wi-Fi every instance in which he wants to use the app, (2) Uploading short video clips of things such as presentations may be more beneficial to Jeff’s coworkers than plain text, and (3) Since this app is to be used department-wide, a substantial variety of different devices may utilize this app. The app will need to be functional on all of them. These pieces of information, as well as any others you can glean from this scenario, need to be considered in the design process.

Scenarios can also be beneficial in usability testing. Giving users short scenarios outlining goals and some context in which those goals are to be completed can help them feel a greater sense of reality in the test, and it can help them look closely at your product in ways that they may not have otherwise, which can lead to them providing you with better feedback.

How can I write an effective scenario?
An effective scenario begins with a real person, or at least a fictional person based on a real person or people. You can then begin brainstorming the wants and needs of the person, as well as situations in which this person will need to use your product and different constraints and/or factors that will be at play while they are using it. A scenario’s level of depth, as well as the number of scenarios needed, is dependent upon the design project. For instance, a company’s website that will be used by people around the world may require more scenarios than an app that will be used by a small group of people in a single department.

As you begin to write your scenarios, keep in mind these different groups of users and the constraints and environments that are unique to them. This information may be vital to producing an effective design, and including it in scenarios can help keep it fresh in your mind. The following three questions can also help guide the scenario creation process: “Who is the user?”, “Why does the user come to the site [or use the product]?”, and “What goals doe he/she have?” (“Scenarios” 2013).

Works Cited

“Scenarios.”, Department of Health and Human Services, 9 Oct. 2013,

Additional Resources