Use Persona Scenarios: for discovery of feature sets

Years ago I was working on a website for a small dance studio. At the time, I had primarily been building brochure sites for small businesses to help them put a welcome mat on the web. The biggest requirement for the sites was that they were made in away that allowed the owner to make content updates on their own. So I had hand-rolled a content management system that I was using that would allow for this, since there weren’t many pre-built options in those days. But while working on the studio’s website, I made a discovery that really marked the turning point for my entry into the field of user experience and formed the foundation of what has come to be my method of persona storytelling.

Not only was I designing the site for the studio, but my daughter danced in a few classes a week. So I was spending a lot of time there. Sometimes when the studio was really busy, I would volunteer to answer phones or help people who came in for information. Registrations were a particularly challenging time. The studio was very popular and classes would fill up quickly. Especially on Saturdays which had the biggest impact on the working moms. Mother’s would come in to register only to be waitlisted or turned away completely.

One winter morning, the owner came in carrying a stack of folders. When I asked her what they were, she explained that they were all the registration forms from the students. She would take them home each night in case there was an emergency and she needed to contact them about studio closures. I do believe my jaw drop open as I tried to absorb the idea that she was taking hundreds of registration forms back and forth to her home every night. I knew there was a solution to all of this.

Collage of journey on a snow day.
images sourced from Mary Ann, Annette Fallin, Niklas Bildhauer, Colin Campbell, sarah_i_am, Sint Smeding, Thorbjørn Riise Haagensen


I began to layout the problems the mother’s and the owners were facing. I used sticky notes to assemble a problems list on the my wall focused mainly on the two scenarios of registration and portable student contact information.  The solution came as an online registration system connected to a student profiler. Classes would be listed online. The system would be able to show when classes reached capacity. Mother’s registering their daughters would be able to add or update their contact information. There were also other features needed that I’d discover like maintaining a history of classes the student had before and also a way linking students to sibling information.

In the end, registrations were less frustrating because mother’s were able to easily find out if a desired class was full. The owner was able to open additional sections of popular classes because she would learn staffing needs faster. And mostly, she could easily access needed information about her students.

Since then I’ve worked on honing this technique of understanding user needs by studying the user scenario. I’ve learned that often, as the designer, you need to think outside the box by not just focusing on the feature sets you think the user needs, but rather examining  the activities of the user and use that as the basis for discovery.

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