User Profiles and Usage Scenarios

It can start to feel mechanical when you’re designing the same features over and over again for websites or apps. The standard tableview of article titles, an article detail view, add comments form (with requisite login/register/forgot password), share to facebook, share to twitter…it seems like we’re adding the same features over and over to every project.

One way to break out of the monotony for a particular app is to come up with a vision for how a typical user might use it — especially if you can come up with some of the ways they might use a small, out-of-the-way feature to do something amazing. It’s the same way people use (or sometime abuse) an app, causing the app makers to pivot and focus on that feature instead of the one they believed was their key differentiator.

The tools for this process are the user profile, and the usage scenario.

A user profile is a detailed overview of a “typical” user. This should hit as many of the targeted features of a typical user, along with some special characteristics that give them flavor. At the most, four to six profiles should give a good range of personality, and it will give everyone someone solid to keep in mind when imagining how someone other than themselves might use the app.

For example:

- Alyssa, 42, Hispanic bank manager, single mother of 2 kids, likes Pinterest and Twitter, hopes to one day learn how to hang glide
- Bhalchandra, 31, Indian descent, web blogger, newly married (no kids), big fan of 80′s hair metal bands
- Chiyuu, 21, male Japanese college student interning for a software company, very involved in social media, likes to ride his motorcycle

The usage scenario will then breathe life into this persona, describing a typical day or series of use cases between this person and the app you are designing.

For example:

(for a movie e-ticketing app called eTikketz)

Hispanic female with son and daughter

Alyssa, single mother of 2 kids, had a hard day at the office. A big deadline was looming, and she knew she was going to have to work late. She loaded the eTikketz app on her iPhone, and bought two tickets to Despicable Me, along with a voucher for two drinks and two food items. Then she forwarded them as an SMS message to her older son, along with the note to pick up his sister, and head straight to the mall after school.

Once her son got to the movie theater with his sister, he showed the sms message to the ticket teller, who entered the six digit code and printed out his tickets and vouchers. The children then ordered their food, redeeming the vouchers, and entered the theater to watch their movie.

A text message was then sent to Alyssa, letting her know that both tickets were redeemed, so she was able to continue working with the knowledge that her kids were in a safe place. She had also set up an alert to notify her 15 minutes before the movie ended, so she could pick up her children once the movie ended.


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Instead of designing the app as a simple Fandango clone, this usage scenario created a vision for this app that put the focus on security as well as convenience. The multiple methods of communication make it trivial for adults and their children to communicate effectively, and ensure that instructions are followed.

You can also expect this app to get pinned to a lot of Pinterest boards.

Over the next few months, I plan on doing some fun things with usage scenarios, exploring some creativity with characterization as well as feature exploration — so stay tuned!

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