A More Robust Design Process with Use Cases

Digital projects vary in shape and size. Some allow you to keep a lean and simple process, whilst others require a more robust approach. Those normally involve hordes of Business Analysts, so I thought it would be a good idea to study their process and see if I can reuse something. There are times when it’s difficult to draw a line between BA and UX. Business Analysts define a system’s behaviour and thus they’re designing it. We do that too, but we approach it from a very different angle. Nonetheless some of their tools could be useful in complex UX projects, and there’s one that interests me especially: the use case.

Use cases in the design process

Use cases come in many flavours, but normally have a combination of: plain English descriptions of what a page or functionality should do, flowcharts, data formats, user stories explaining the actor, narrative and goal, and basic and alternative flows. Use cases are goal-oriented, and that’s great because the majority of our work as designers is too. We specialise in solving problems, and many times that involves designing tasks so users can fulfill their goals. Describing what happens in a task step by step, considering not only your Sunny Day cases but also the infrequent ones, exceptions, etc., can only help your design process. I like to list the key functionality of a system with all the imaginable scenarios, and then check whether the experience of use is correct or not for all of them. I consider things like: accessing via google, session time-out, logged-in and out status, first-time or recurrent visit, no network, etc. It’s incredibly useful to define those scenarios and subsequent workflows with your client, and then sketch some quick solutions. Having a common understanding of how a task can be solved will bring you two benefits:
  • Your process is more transparent, and you won’t be seen as a magician
  • Your will get client buy-in, as you defined the solution together
In some circumstances I use user stories, as they are easy to understand from a developer to a senior stakeholder. User stories normally look like this:
  • As a…
  • I want to achieve …
  • So I do …
And example could be:
As a logged-in customer, I want review my previous orders, so I can reorder them.
As you can see, there’s a clear goal your user want to achieve, to reorder past orders, and you write the story around it. The story should obviously be aligned with your requirements, and based on the user needs and goals identified during the research phase.

Tell me how big you are...

Your project’s scale should dictate how deep you want to get into the use cases. For a simple redesign user stories will bring focus and help convey the important messages or functionality. It will also help you make less mistakes. Bigger projects will benefit of a more expanded approach with user flows and document maps, turning vague wireframes into more structured and documents that can more easily be digested by developers. Large-scale ones will inevitably require the involvement of BA’s, so in this case you’ll need to sit together and decide who can bring what, separate responsibilities and clearly define:
  • How your design and analysis processes are going to work together
  • What your final deliverables are going to look like.
And remember, these are just suggestions. There are no clear rules for each case. You’ll always have to analyse the project and audience, adapting your design process with the best weapons of your toolbox.