User scenarios

What is a User Scenario?

In its simplest form, user scenarios are narratives created to show how users might act to achieve a goal. It’s important to note that user scenarios are not User Stories. 

User scenarios are short narratives (they have a plot) that show a user using your product or service to achieve their goal. User scenarios dive into motivations, needs and barriers in the context of how your users would use your design, product, or feature. In short, scenarios detail out what users would likely experience as they proceed toward using an ideal solution.

User stories, on the other hand, are short, 1 sentence long, statements that describe a user’s goal and follow a very specific format (As a <type of user>, I want <some feature>, so that <reason>.)

There are many benefits to writing user scenarios; they are a great tool to help your team identify user requirements, they help create tasks for your usability tests (link), align your team and stakeholders with a shared vision, and in the absence of hard data, they can be a good substitute when making decisions. User scenarios will ultimately help your team to better ideate and iterate on your product.

A man checking his phone while standing next to his bike.

What do you need to create a User Scenario?


  • 1 hour for a brainstorming session
  • 2-3 hours for reviewing and refining
  • 1 more hour for prioritizing
  • 1 hour for drawing them out (optional)


  • A whiteboard and stickies
  • Pens or sharpies.
  • Or an online brainstorming tool
  • Paper and pens for drawing (optional)

How do you create a User Scenario?

A group of people at a table sketching and taking notes.

Step 1: Book a meeting with participants who feel they understand your users well.

This could be with others at your company (like your product owners or members from the customer service team), or even actual users. Book as many people as you feel you can guide through a brainstorming session without it getting out of hand.

Step 2: Conduct a brainstorming session

I find that good user scenarios are broken up into 3 distinct parts and your brainstorming session should be as well. Have your team spend 10 minutes on each part and generate as many ideas as possible.

Here are the three parts you can break your scenarios into, with questions for each part to help focus your brainstorming:

  • Context and goal:
    • Who is this person? (Existing personas will help here, but if you don’t have them, just do your best to define this person)
    • What skills do they have or don’t have?
    • What tools are they familiar with?
    • Where are they when this scenario takes place?
    • What are the circumstances leading up to this point?
    • What are their goals? Why?
  • Problem and current process:
    • What are the problems they currently face? Why?
    • What is their current process? Or how do they currently do things?
    • What are the issues with this process?
  • New process:
    • What are the steps they go through with this new process? Or how will they do things?
    • How does this new process help them achieve their goals or solve their problems?

Step 3: Edit and clean them up

Once you have these ideas captured somewhere, you can either review and refine them with your team, or do so on your own. You may find it helpful to mix and match certain parts of the scenarios with others until you are satisfied you have enough solid scenarios to review with your team or lead product person.

Step 4: Prioritize them

It might be unreasonable to use every single scenario as a guide for your product, so now you must go through and prioritize which scenarios best represent your product and business goals. This is a great time to get your team involved again, as it will help you come to a team agreement on why you’re building this product and for whom.

Step 5: Draw them out (Optional)

Now that you’ve created your user scenarios, you can easily turn them into UX Storyboards. This is a great way to help communicate your user scenarios to your team.

Step 6: Document and share them

Make sure your final, prioritized scenarios are documented and shared with the rest of your company. Different departments will find different value in them.

Example of a User Scenario

Here is an example of a user scenario for a made up product called “e-create”, broken down into each of the three parts:

Context and goal:

Dave, 67, retired, and with intermediate computer skills, tends to hoard a lot of old junk he’s collected over the years because he keeps saying that he’s going to fix it up or repurpose it. He realizes it’s starting to get out of hand and he’s now determined to tackle some of these projects, starting with his old, broken wall-clock.

Problem and current process

The problem is he doesn’t know where to start. He has so many ideas for each project but doesn’t know how they will turn out. He also hasn’t sat down and planned the steps and materials he will need for each project. He would listen to the suggestions his friends would give him when they came over, then write down some of the better ideas. He would then experiment with his projects for hours without much to show for it, and constantly make trips to the store for new materials as his ideas evolve, however, with no solid plans, his projects often were not finished.

New process

Using e-create, all that has changed. He logs into e-create and types in “broken clock”, then sifts through a few recipes until he finds one called “Stylish picture frame using an old clock”. He looks at the steps and other materials required and decides to go for it. He prints the recipe, buys the exact materials, and gets to work. A few hours later, Dave is mounting his new picture frame to his wall. He snaps a photo and submits it back on to e-create with a review of the recipe.

Tips for great User Scenarios

  • Send these scenarios to some of your users and ask them if these scenarios make sense to them. Or better yet, use these scenarios as context for tasks in your usability tests, and at the end of each task, ask your participant if the scenario made sense to them or is something they often go through. The results from these tests will help reinforce their validity and get buy-in from other departments to use them.
  • Focus on the user’s goal, not the task. This can help designers open their mind and come up with unique and innovative ideas.
A woman taking notes while video chatting to another woman.

More resources for User Scenarios