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1. Define the Problem Space: The difficulty of keeping even a small group of people working together on the same page when the nature of your work is amorphous, innovative, iterative, and non-repetitive.

2. Define the problem:

  • Scattered information
  • What's up to date?
  • Keeping track of versions
  • Defining terminology
  • What are we focusing on?
  • Tasks that turn into Projects, aka the never-ending task
  • Integrating with what you already use
  • Too many security barriers
  • Too much taxonomy and structure
  • Pre-defined workflows


  • Live user interviews
  • Other People's Research
  • Look at existing products and the way people work with them or 'work around' them

Questions we ask ourselves

  • What are common behaviors and complaints?
  • What are the repetitive tasks people do over and over again?

  • Differentiate hacks people have developed from true workflow needs. e.g. "I have a smart folder that has all of my flagged emails." versus "I need a way to see the things I need to keep track of without losing the ability to see new email as it comes in."

  • What are people actually trying to accomplish? Not how are you trying to accomplish it?

  • What's a feature? What's a user need? How many different ways can we meet an user need?
  • What is the relative importance of competing user needs?
  • Who is our target user? Does our target user have this need?

Define usage scenarios around descriptive words like:

  • Keep track of
  • Remember
  • Trip over
  • Record
  • Schedule
  • Pencil in
  • Cancel
  • Re-schedule
  • Organize
  • Review
  • Get a handle on
  • See an overview for; rather than

Mechanistic, interaction words like:

  • Multi-select
  • Click
  • Drag
  • Copy
  • Paste; or

Abstract action words like:

  • View
  • Add
  • Move
  • Remove
  • Delete
  • Edit
  • Categorize

Make use cases specific:

  • Plan a 50th wedding anniversary for my parents who live clear across the continent; as opposed to
  • Plan an event.

That will almost always make for more interesting workflows.

We emphasize / use laymen's vocabulary over technical jargon whenever possible:

  • Outbound mail account (SMTP) versus STMP mail account
  • Subscribe by Application (e.g. Chandler, Apple iCal, Sunbird, Google calendar, Outlook as opposed to WebCal, CalDAV, GData, etc)


  • User Problem What problem does the suite of products and services address? (e.g. a small group of people who can't afford an enterprise solution want to coordinate work with each other)
  • Target Users / Target User Group Who are we designing for?
  • Personas Profiles for our Target Users and User Group. Who are they? What do they do? How do they work? How do they work with each other? What are their idiosyncracies?
  • Usage Patterns Patterns of Usage ;o) defined around a common verb: Record, Process, Document, Archive. A set of Usage Scenarios with roughly the same workflow morphology.
  • Usage Scenarios Common user need that falls within the User Problem-Space, (e.g. 3 people collaboratively editing a document)
  • Use Cases Specific examples of Usage Scenarios (e.g. Aunt Nancy plans a birthday party for her niece, who is visiting for the summer from far away.)
  • Workflows: How Aunt Nancy goes about doing her planning. Steps user takes to accomplish a specific user task (e.g. 1. double click to create new event 2. type event title)
  • Feature Piece of functionality that supports workflows (e.g. email address auto-complete)

Additional reading

-- MimiYin - 03 Jan 2007

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