Extracting Design Challenges from User Scenarios: The magic of storytelling


We generally relate stories to movies, games or other art forms. Although widely-known, they are generally considered as an external entity as something to be consumed or experienced. But stories have a wider influence than just arts or media, they make us who we are, WE are a collection of our life stories.

“…we constantly construct and reconstruct our selves to meet the needs of the situations we encounter and we do so with the guidance of our memories of the past and our hopes and fears for the future. Telling oneself about oneself is like making up a story about who and what we are, what’s happened, and why we’re doing what we’re doing.”  – (Bruner, 2003)

What can we learn from this about interaction design? How do we use stories to our advantage? Let me try and explain with an example. I am currently working on designing a thing (undecided), to promote eco-friendly/sustainable lifestyle. Other aspects of the project are undecided because i’m in the research phase of design. So, lets get started.

Design Scenario #1: Alex (name changed) is struggling to fit all her groceries in the kitchen cabinet and refrigerator fridge of her new apartment and realizes that its not large enough to hold groceries of all the inhabitants, hence she decides to buy smaller amounts of groceries in the future.

Alex is an international graduate student and has recently moved to new york city and lives with 2 roommates. The kitchen cabinet and fridge at her new place isn’t big enough. This forces her to buy less groceries during her visits to the supermarket. In the interview she mentioned that before she moved to her new home, she used to buy a month’s worth of groceries, but now is limited to a weeks worth. This situation has also led her to visit the supermarket more often.

Moreover, she mentioned that she used to cook larger amounts of food in the past but now, due to limited space, she has to cook on a meal-by-meal basis, which she feels is an inefficient use of her time. Her schedule until now has allowed her to cook thrice a day, but she isn’t sure that that would always be possible as she progresses through college.

Design Scenario #2: Alex, a graduate student, walks into the subway station close to her house and is informed that the train has been delayed by an hour, as she is getting late for a lecture, she decides to take a taxi to school.

Alex likes walking and talking the subway. She also loves biking. However she finds it is difficult to bike because there are no bike lanes around her neighborhood. While she was in her home country she used to travel by several different modes of transport including walking, biking, driving, trains, buses, taxis and trains, but now she only walks and uses subways.

In the interview she mentioned that she doesn’t like to take buses in New York because they are unreliable and dirty. Moreover, she feels that its relatively difficult to keep track of routes and location while traveling in a bus.

Coming back to stories, the above two examples are an example of how you can extract challenges from fake/real stories you create about the user. The logic behind it is that its hard to contradict oneself when there is a continuing narrative of a situation which makes it easier to step into a users shoes. The design challenges that i picked up from the above examples are as follows:

Scenario #1

  • How can we provide more space for storage?
  • How can we reduce the number of visits to the grocery store?
  • How can we reduce total time spent on cooking?

Scenario #2

  • How can we promote usage of bikes?
  • How can we make buses more accessible (Better communication of routes, schedule and location)?

Final Word: Creating these stories and scenarios allows a more articulate problem and situation facilitating better extraction of design challenges. So make up stories and try to act like the user.


Bruner, J. S. (2003). Making stories: Law, literature, life. Harvard University Press.

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