What’s the difference between a scenario and a story?
I’ve always thought those sorts of definitions are trick questions, especially when we are struggling to find words to match our ideas. Perhaps it’s inevitable that we sometimes use the same word in different ways…and different words to mean the same thing.
If we look at three ways of creating stories in UX today, we can see a difference in both the quality of the story and what its value is.
Lets start with Agile user stories. The classic form is something like:
As a [role] I can [do something] so that [benefit]
Like many story forms in designing technology, the goal of these stories is to find the simplest way to express a requirement. We want to know who, what, and why, so that our design (and development) work can be grounded in that context.
Many of the abstract modeling tools — swimlanes, flow diagrams – use case diagrams – have the same goal: to strip away the casual differences and show the underlying core.
The next type of story is what I would call a scenario. They describe the sequence of events, adding how to the story. Whether they are storyboards that walk through an interaction, a narrative use case, or any other form, their focus is on the plot. They answer the question, “What happened?” or “What will happen?”
Finally, we can add rich detail that lets us understand the human perspective and response. Imagery, emotion, contextual details, and deeper motivations all take us into the point of view of the characters. These stories are often tied to personas, building on the demographic and behavioral data they embody.
When we include not just the basics of who, what, why, and how, but also the rich texture of the experience, we have created a story that is both useful and helps us connect to the people who will use the products we create.
That’s the power of story.
If you’d like to know more, I’m giving a full-day workshop on how to use stories and personas to design with users in mind.
May 7, 2012
American Institute of Architects