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Last updated on 2/10/23

Have a clear vision through scenarios and user stories

You often hear about scenarios and user stories as tools for helping you throughout the design process, but they can be just as valuable for writing as well. Both are tools for helping us frame an experience from the user perspective. They are an excellent way to help us better understand the context for which we're designing—or writing.

Use scenarios to consider the user's goals and motivations

The Interaction Design Foundation defines scenarios as "the fictitious story of a user’s accomplishing an action or goal via a product. It focuses on a user’s motivations and documents the process by which the user might use a design. " Scenarios help tell a story and provide context to when, where, and how things happen. Context and detail helps make scenarios relatable from the user perspective. Scenarios do not represent all possible users, but tend to examine common users and their motivations.

 Usability.gov suggests considering the following questions when writing scenarios:

  • Who is the user?

  • Why does the user come to the site/use the product?

  • What goals does the user have?

  • How can the user achieve their goals using the site/product?

Let's say you're working on an app that helps manage homework. Here's a possible scenario:
You're a working mom with three kids who are in different grade levels. You want to be able to track their work based on individual needs.

The best scenarios are concise in that they let you focus on key considerations. They help give details about the user, their context and look at a problem from their perspective. Rather than saying "users" you can be more specific to reflect an understanding of your audience. This will ensure that you are building features and creating content that is relevant and useful to them.

Understand user goals through user stories and job stories

As a UX designer, you need a clear vision of user goals. User stories and job stories are useful tools to ensure you're designing—and writing—with a purpose, and with users in mind.

GOV.UK who is well known for outstanding content design and framing their focus around users, defines user stories by saying "user stories describe a user and the reason why they need to use the service you’re building." GOV.UK uses the following formula in order to address the person, action or narrative, and goal:

As a… [who is the user?]

I need/want/expect to… [what does the user want to do?]

So that… [why does the user want to do this?]

In her book, Content Design, Sarah Richards writes the formula in a similar way:

As a [person in a particular role]

I want to [perform an action or find something out]

So that I can [achieve my goal of...].

User stories help you frame the situation without having a specific solution in mind. They allow you to focus on the problem from a user-centric approach. By focusing on the goal you can help ensure you're working to solve the right problem, as well as knowing when the story is done, and the user need has been met.

All users are not going to fit into a single user story, so you may want to write several user stories to be sure you're presenting the information (and challenges) in a way that meets the needs of many.

Job stories are an alternative, yet similar, approach when you have a primary audience with a specific task in mind. Job stories can be written with the formula:

When [there's a particular situation]

I want to [perform an action or find something out]

So I can [achieve my goal of...].

Acceptance criteria are a way teams can know when user and job stories are done. They provide a set of outcomes that confirm that your service or product has achieved what set out to do. The criteria can be as simple as "The story is done when the user can find the information they need," or "The user is able to log in," or "It's done when the user knows how to create an account." Depending on the story, you may have multiple acceptance criteria.

When you're first creating user flows, you may not consider all the different situations in which a user may find themselves. Thinking about scenarios and user stories are a good way to consider how the messaging and language play a role in the user's journey.

Create a narrative with storyframes

In the world of UX, there are countless tools you can draw from. Different projects will have different needs so some tools may be more appropriate for some projects and not others. (Don't feel like you have to use them all!).

Storyframes are an approach that Fabricio Teixeira of UX Collective wrote about, inspired by screenwriting and storytelling. Before jumping into sketching or wireframes, he creates what he's dubbed "storyframes." Storyframes are a hybrid document between a script/story and a wireframe."

Using a simple text editor, he thinks of interfaces as stories and asks the question:

How would I explain to a friend, in a conversation or in an email, this thing/topic/product/story I am trying to communicate?

By writing a short paragraph to express what you’re trying to communicate it can help you focus on the user and the message rather than getting distracted by visuals. In other words, it's another way of thinking about "content first."

When looking at content in relation to design, make sure that users are getting the appropriate information at the right time. It’s about finding the balance between business needs and user needs. You can use scenarios and user stories as a way to help guide your content choices.

Let's recap!

  • Always consider the user perspective in both design and content.

  • Scenarios can help contextualize situations you are designing and writing for.

  • User stories and job stories are simple sentences that help you consider user goals as you work to find solutions.

  • Storyframes use narrative descriptions to think about the goals you're trying to achieve in order to communicate an experience.

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