Creating Task Scenarios that improves Usability Test Results

Dec 4, 2016 · 5 min read

Idea behind conducting usability testing is to understand how easy and hard it is for your users to use your app/website, do specific tasks, understanding what user expect v/s what you’re delivering.

Scenarios are the core of any usability test as you have to correctly communicate your participants, what you want them to do during the test. Well crafted task scenario helps you focus on designing around the real needs of the user and removes artificiality from the test.

Scenario example for booking an airline ticket

You want to fly to LA next Monday morning for a UX conference and return back on Thursday morning. You have to book the flight that suits your timing, with a credit card.

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As you can see, above scenario makes the task much more realistic as we’ve provided user only a scenario which requires users to complete 3 different tasks-

  1. Signup/login on the app
  2. Search for flight as per the schedule
  3. Book the flight

So, what makes a good scenario? Let’s dig deeper.

A good scenario -

  1. Short but enough information to perform the task
  2. Use User’s language, not the product’s
  3. Simple and Clear
  4. Should address your tasks and concerns

  1. Short but enough information to perform the task:

Time needed to read and understand the task has to be minimized as much as possible. Having a long written task scenarios may require users to spend undue time in reading and understanding what they have to do during the test which may indirectly influence the overall time and effort to complete the task.

You have to find a balance in keeping the scenario short and relieving enough information to perform the task. It’s also suggested to communicate the task with users as the way you talk and not sound very scientific.

Task Scenario Example: You are interested in buying a jacket for yourself this month end. Select the jacket having discount more than 30% and save it in the cart.

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2. Use user’s language, not the product’s:

Main aim of conducting usability test is to understand how a user will use it in their real environment without getting any support from external audience (Moderator, developers…). So, providing users with the enough detail is important but it should be in the language that user can relate to and not the one which is used in product.

For example, You may have Icons, menu options or labeled button, in your UI. Concern could be to see if users choose right Icons, menu options or labeled button to complete a task or not.

Now if you assign a task to your user which says “Signup for the CanvasFlip’s weekly newsletters” and your labeled button has CTA as “Signup for newsletters”.

Think from user’s perspective, do you have to use your brain to click on this CTA? Obviously not !

In the above scenario, you may get a result that shows maximum no. of users being able to click on the CTA but their is no guarantee that you will get desired result in the real environment too because this behavior of user is influenced by the bad scenario you created.

Takeaway — Try to create scenarios which requires users to think before they act! For this you can rephrase your task as -

Look for a way to stay informed on upcoming events/news from CanvasFlip on a regular basis through email ”

3. Simple and Clear:

You will get desired result if and only if your task scenario is clear to your users that means they have no ambiguity in understanding what you want them to do. I have personally seen UX’ers committing a common mistake which is creating scenarios which in itself is ambiguous.

To understand this, let’s check out following scenario created by one of my friend working with online travel company.

Goal was to see how comfortable users are in searching and booking a cheapest flight from their app.

Scenario they created : You have to attend a business meeting next month in Madrid and for that you have to find a cheapest flight available and book it.

And not surprisingly, the result they got was very vague and was of no use. Here’s the glimpse of result:

When user started doing it, almost all of them picked random date from next month to complete the task and surprisingly 27% users booked more than one flights.

So what went wrong with the scenario?

Scenario was not specific about the date for which the flight has to be booked and that made users confused and do random stuffs. This small mistake ruined all effort, time and money they put in conducting the test.

A better version of scenario that could have been used-

You have to attend a business meeting in Madrid on 22nd Nov. Find a cheapest flight available and book it. (Simple and Clear)

4. Should address your tasks and concerns:

Every scenario we create has to address one or more tasks and each task should be intended to address one or more concerns we have with the app/ website.

It’s must to have scenarios that are aligned with your business goals, for example, if your concern is to improve sales in your e-commerce portal, you would probably be interested in knowing whether it’s easy for your customers to find and purchase a given product or not.

Scenario example:

You want to attend a party thrown by your best friend. Buy a T-shirt for that between $25 — $40 having delivery time less than 2 days.

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Summing up:

Scenario helps mimic real-world context that users can easily relate to, and finally helps them to behave in a natural way. Though, task scenarios are critically important in analyzing usability and user experience of an interface, it’s more important to curate right task scenarios. It determines how useful and accurate your testing results would be. Being able to do so requires experience, understanding of the goal/concern, and continuous effort in refining your skills in writing tasks.


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