GuidesUser experience (UX)A step-by-step guide to designing effective user scenarios

A step-by-step guide to designing effective user scenarios

Last updated

31 July 2023


Dovetail Editorial Team

Reviewed by

Jean Kaluza

User scenarios are stories that help teams visualize people's steps to achieve a specific goal or resolve a problem. They focus on why people's goals and motivations are a certain way instead of how. 

Understanding why users take specific actions can ensure companies provide the right solutions and meet their users' needs. 

User scenarios are essential for UX professionals to understand user behavior and what they want when visiting a website or using an app. 

Product development teams also use user scenarios to understand users and how product features or new products can provide them with practical solutions for their issues. 

Let’s learn more about designing user scenarios, including examples. 

Types of user scenarios

The three UX user scenario types differ by the information visualized and the team's plan involvement:

  • Task-based scenarios show only a user's steps to complete a specific action without additional context or how they would accomplish the task.

  • Elaborated scenarios include an elaboration of each step taken by a user and an analysis of the user's behavior and suggestions for improving the user experience

  • Full-scale task scenarios combine task-based and elaborated scenarios while including steps for improving user experience

User scenarios vs. user stories

A user story briefly describes the user and their needs regarding the company’s offerings. User stories reflect how the user sees the problem and only include the user's general character traits related to a company's product. 

On the other hand, user scenarios provide more detail about a user's persona, how users use a product, and why. User scenarios provide greater insight into a user's interaction with a product and the steps they take to achieve their goals. 

Here’s an example:

User story from Sam: “I want to invite my students to teach them on this platform.”

User scenario: Sam has just logged into his teacher portal after waiting in morning traffic for 40 minutes. His coffee is getting cold, and he just wants his teaching platform set up before the school day starts. 

As he takes his first sip of coffee, he realizes he still needs to invite the students. He rushes to figure out the system, texting his fellow teacher down the hall to see if they know how it works. 

Before they can reply, Sam sees the “invite your students” call-to-action button and presses it. He sees a clear list of his students, the ability to “select all,” and the “invite” option, which he clicks. 

Sam finishes sipping his coffee as he watches his students arrive in his virtual teacher portal.

User scenario vs. storyboard

After developing a user scenario, a storyboard visually represents how the user interacts with your site or app. 

Illustrations, sketches, screenshots, slideshows, and animated demos are different storyboard types UX professionals use. 

User scenarios and storyboards work together to identify key user information and improve or create new products or features that continue delighting users. 

What does a user scenario look like?

User scenarios are a story including the steps one user persona takes to discover and use a company's website, app, or product. 

They create a visual representation of a customer's journey

User scenarios can be: 

  • A standalone written statement

  • A statement within a user persona, sketches

  • Sticky note trees breaking down each scenario's: 

    • Steps

    • Design ideas

    • Questions

    • Relevant comments

    • Considerations

What to include in a user scenario

As a detailed description of your user within a specific context relating to your solution, effective user scenarios should have several considerations. 

The five basic elements of a user scenario are:

  1. User persona: Including demographics, personal traits, and relevant habits

  2. Motivator: The problem or reason why users need a specific solution

  3. Intent: The goal the user wants to achieve

  4. Action: How the user will reach their goals, including the steps they'll follow

  5. Resolution: How the user reaches a solution and why they choose it

In addition to these five elements, you should include problems or pain points that users may experience during their customer journey. Don’t forget the context and relevant background information on the user's situation. 

Creating user scenarios: a step-by-step guide

Creating useful user scenarios requires input from several departments, such as product and market research. Qualitative interviews are user-centered, so they can provide deep insights. 

A thorough understanding of your ideal user is crucial in developing a user persona for your user scenario. Working with pre-gathered data will save you time during the research step. 

Step 1: Conduct research to understand your user

Define one persona per scenario by determining the user's demographics, goals, pain points, and how your company's product provides a solution. 

Focus on user motivation and intention during the market research phase to fully understand your users and how they'll interact with your website, app, or product. 

While your research may identify multiple user personas, sticking to one persona per scenario is important to create effective user scenarios. 

Questions to answer about your user persona include:

  • What is their job?

  • What life stage are they in?

  • What are their hobbies?

  • If relevant, what is their family status?

  • What are their motivations for using your product?

  • Where do they live?

  • What are their core beliefs?

  • What are some of their biggest challenges?

  • What specific solution for this scenario is needed? 

Step 2: Define the user's goal and actions to achieve this goal

Add in the context and user's environment for the user persona created in step one to determine the steps they'll take to achieve their goal. 

You should consider the user's extrinsic or intrinsic motivation for fulfilling certain actions. The context surrounding the user's goal will provide more insight into why they take specific steps. 

Step 3: Consider the different options and potential problems arising while the user works toward the goal

This involves defining the user's why behind their goal. It also outlines potential pain points they may experience while working to achieve their goal. 

This is also where you learn how the user would overcome issues and how you can ensure they avoid them in the first place. That could mean improving your website's or app's design. 

You should consider why your product can help their goals and other options available. 

The user persona, context, and reason they're searching for a solution make up a user scenario that could play an important role in the company's decision-making.

Step 4: Share the scenario with the team

Input from customer service can refine the scenario and include new perspectives about the direction based on real problems customer representatives have helped real users with. 

Creating a user scenario aims to provide the team with an understanding of the target user and how a product, website, or app will solve their problems. 

Receiving feedback from key people from research and customer service ensures a shared vision for the product's direction and use.

Sharing the draft user scenario with the team during the early design and development stages is a perfect time to check that the product is moving in the right direction. 

It’s a great way to ensure you can effectively meet the user's needs. Plus, it’s much easier to go back to the drawing board if changes to the product are necessary. 

Step 5: Does the user scenario match the product?

It's crucial to ask if your website, app, or product provides the solution needed for the user's scenario. The user scenario should align with your product. 

If it doesn't, you may need to rethink your user scenario to ensure you selected the appropriate persona for a new feature or product and the benefits it brings to your users.

Step 6: Continue developing the user journey

User scenarios can inspire the product development team to develop new features or products to include in future plans. 

User scenarios bring insight and valuable direction for improving customer experience and encouraging long-term engagement. 

Step 7: Share user scenarios consistently 

Developing user scenarios is all for nothing if your team never references them. 

Be sure to include points within the development lifecycle to reference your user scenarios. This could be at the very start of the design process to help facilitate solutions and ideas. 

The product team could also use them when they need to test a so-called winning solution against the user scenario. Bias and blindness to users’ perspectives are naturally occurring phenomena that can thwart any team’s chance of solving problems. 

User scenarios are the perfect way to cultivate success consistently.

Examples of user scenarios

Travel user scenario example

Jane is a college student planning a spring break beach trip to Florida. She searches online for the top Florida spring break destinations and pricing to determine where fits her budget. 

After settling on the destination, she wonders if she can easily compare hotel prices in one place. She remembers her friend telling her about a travel website. 

Jane finds the website, finds her ideal hotel, and books her stay by following the website's booking process. 

Bank loan payment user scenario example

Mr. and Mrs. Smith recently moved to a new house closer to their out-of-state family. They receive mailed statements for their loans to make the necessary payments from their local bank and know they must notify them of their move. 

Unfortunately, they are unsure of the closest bank, and walking or driving far is difficult for the aging couple. It seems viable to use their computer to make an address change with their bank and make upcoming payments.

However, they feel uneasy about the safety of providing personal details online. Since they have never visited the bank’s website, they are unfamiliar with its layout and how to access their accounts. 

Therefore, they want to learn how safe it is to provide their address change request and make online payments. 

Scenario mapping workshop example

Scenario mapping is a common process used for writing user scenarios. 

One of the most common scenario-mapping exercises is building a sticky note tree. During the workshop, the facilitator uses four to six sticky notes to break the user scenario into smaller parts. 

Participants receive three different colored sticky notes to represent the following categories:

  • Design ideas

  • Questions to resolve

  • Relevant comments or concerns to the scenario

Participants brainstorm ideas, write them on the coordinating colored sticky notes, and place them under the relevant scenario sections. 

The group discusses the different ideas and chooses which to explore further. 

The workshop acknowledges multiple perspectives for product improvement or new product development ideas before investing in a solution. 

Tips for designing effective user scenarios

A practical user scenario clearly defines the user's needs, motivations, and goals. 

Tips for designing user scenarios for your business include:

  • Always focus on the why behind users' goals and actions. 

  • Avoid inserting your assumptions and biases into the solution: You are not the user. 

  • Consider the scenario's context and related details to understand users' wants better. 

  • Include input from multiple departments. 

  • Focus on creating a scenario that matches your product or solution.

  • Never go with your initial thought about a user's action; instead, dive into understanding the why of the user's steps. 

Benefits of user scenarios for UX design 

While user scenarios are useful for various applications, website designers benefit from creating user scenarios to build a user-friendly, organized website. 

Some benefits for UX design professionals include the following: 

  • Develop more useful usability testing processes. 

  • Ensure relevant content shows at the right times.

  • Address any potential issues during a user's site interaction.

  • Design the best solution for your users' problems.

  • Clearly outlines the steps users take when using your website or app. 

  • Get a better understanding of why someone visits your website or downloads your app.


What is the purpose of a design scenario?

Design scenarios help organize ideas and show a user's perspective of using your website, app, or product. After creating design scenarios, teams can take creative approaches to improve processes and user experience based on the outlined ideas. 

How do you explain user scenarios in a technical document?

Since a technical document explains anything related to your software product, including user scenarios are essential to describe how to use the product. 

The technical document should focus on user stories but can link to the most relevant and thorough personas and user scenarios. 

In a technical document, use a general overview of how the product works and how it solves your users' problems by outlining the steps for making the software function and using its features. You can mention more detailed insights, but don’t focus on them. 

What is the difference between scenario and context?

A scenario refers to the entire persona's story, whereas the context is the background, circumstances, and details of a persona. 

What is use case and user scenario?

A use case is a single task or way users interact with a product to achieve their goal. 

A user scenario shows how the user's task can change, fail, or succeed based on specific circumstances when using a product.

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