Profiles, Scenarios & User Stories

Problem Addressed

Traditional methods for developing new software and services are prone to result in under-delivery in terms of meeting the complex needs of end users. These methods often result in services and products that focus too heavily on the needs of a single user/stakeholder group and the project outcomes tend to be limited to solutions that are based on what is currently seen as possible, rather than taking a leap forward in delivering a service that strives to meet the key needs and expectations of all users.

Methods Proposed

Profiles, scenarios and user stories are key tools utilised by ‘Service Design’ or ‘User/Human-centered Design’ practitioners. Both approaches are built around user engagement, iterative user testing and full stakeholder engagement, collaboration and ownership. Used in combination, these tools represent engagement in a ‘design thinking’ process.

The methods are used within a collaborative team environment in which all of the project stakeholders are represented and collectively take ownership of all design decisions made as a result of applying ‘design thinking’ methods. A key part of the approach is to engage in rapid cycles of user testing and refining the profiles, scenarios and user stories. This iterative approach ensures that the design decisions made are based on the needs and motivations of real service/system users rather than an abstract notion of different end users.

User profiles can be defined as a way of grouping users based on the broad, but significant in terms of their service usage, characteristics e.g. librarian, undergraduate, lecturer.

User stories are fictionalised sketches that summarise a profiled user’s (often unstated) needs, motivations and expectations, written in everyday, non-technical, language. They describe what the user is trying to achieve when they interact with the service being developed and enable the project team to explore where each user is ‘coming from’. User stories, as long as they do not become idealised caricatures of real users, are a powerful way of allowing non-functional requirements to be surfaced and designed into the system.

User scenarios are narrative accounts of how users will interact with the system and each other as they pursue a desired outcome (e.g. complete the research required for a group assignment). Critically they include the perspective of each user profile that is relevant to the scenario being described. This method enables services to be designed based on shared user goals, while also allowing for/mitigating any conflicting motivations, needs and expectations that may arise.

In his work with Georgia Tech Sam Peck used ‘DEEP’ as a useful mnemonic for the stages of refining user scenarios:

The objective of the method is to ensure that the requirements and expectations of all target users are taken into account and incorporated into the development of systems and services. The method is best seen as an iterative process that allows unconscious motivations and needs of users to be expressed and designed into the service from the start. It aims to reduce the risk of a service failing to meet the real world demands of its users when it is implemented.

Examples of Use

This method is used or referenced in the following LMS Change Case Studies:

Other References

The following references provide useful overviews for using design thinking process and methods in an educational setting: