Scenario of use

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Introduction and definitions

Scenarios of use - simply called scenarios in usability and interaction design - describe what a person does with a system from the user's point of view. The opposite analysis is use case, a description of what users can do with a system from the system's point of view.

“A scenario is a short story about a specific user with a specific goal at your site. Scenarios are the questions, tasks, and stories that users bring to your Web site and that the Web site must satisfy. Scenarios are critical both for designing Web sites and for doing usability testing.” (, retrieved April 27 2011.

“Scenarios -- stories about users activities as they happen in context and relate to other activities -- define the way a user needs to complete an activity or string of activities, what information they already know and need to know, what mental models and expectations they already have in the space and how their context affects the way they get work done (e.g. frequent interruptions tell us the system needs to help users keeps track of where they are in a process).” (fluid, retrieved 17:21, 27 April 2011 (CEST))

“Just as personas are individual, fictional accounts of user group profile data, scenarios are individual, fictional accounts of workflow data. A scenario is a description of a persona using a product to achieve a goal.] Scenarios are usually narratives that tell a story describing one or more tasks in a specific environmental situation.” (Just Ask, retrieved 17:21, 27 April 2011 (CEST).

“A scenario is a description of a person's interaction with a system. Scenarios help focus design efforts on the user's requirements, which are distinct from technical or business requirements. Scenarios may be related to 'use cases', which describe interactions at a technical level. Unlike use cases, however, scenarios can be understood by people who do not have any technical background. They are therefore suitable for use during participatory design activities.” (Information & Design, retrieved 17:21, 27 April 2011 (CEST))

See also Personas, since scenarios of use are often integrated with persona files.


In order to write a scenario, one must have an understanding of the context, user(s) and tasks user you want to achieve.

To gather this information, you can use an observation method like contextual inquiry or do semi-structured interviews. You then can use this data to a quick task analysis and finally write the scenario.

Scenarios don't need to be perfect, they just should represent all the major tasks a person should do, plus include all necessary contextual information.

Finally, scenarios can be discussed and refined in focus group and design meetings.




Special topics
Collections of links


  • Cooper, A. The Inmates Are Running the Asylum. Indianapolis, Indiana: SAMS, Division of MacMillan Computer Publishing, 1999.
  • Henry, S.L., Martinson, M.L., and Barnicle, K. Beyond Video: Accessibility Profiles, Personas, and Scenarios Up Close and Personal. Proceedings of UPA 2003 (Usability Professionals' Association annual conference), 2003.