Scenario tasks

A scenario task is a set of steps that the participant needs to perform to accomplish a goal. Once you’ve figured out what tasks you want to test, you’ll need to formulate some realistic task scenarios for participants to accomplish. In short, a task scenario is the action that you ask the participant to take by providing the necessary details to accomplish that task.

A scenario task should be given to the participant during the usability test and they should represent what these people actually do with that software. Scenario tasks are the best way to bring to light usability issues since you can really see the way the participant is trying to finish the task given by you. These tasks should be created carefully because their formulation determines the reliability and the validity of the overall usability testing.

Before I applied for Outreachy internship I had to present a “first contribution”, in my case a usability test with few testers and ten scenario tasks. This test served as a glimpse on how the final usability test result would look like, and also gave me more information on what I should and should not be doing next time while creating scenario tasks and while performing those tasks. I managed to summarize three short tips on how to create better scenario tasks:

Do not give clues
Avoid statements that may end up giving too much information. Instead of saying click“this”, you should leave the participant finish the task in order to see if that feature is intuitive. Also do not force the user to execute that task in a certain way, there are many ways to accomplish a task so let the user’s choose their way to use the interface.

Use the user’s language
Try to adapt to participant’s way of speaking based on their backgrounds and experience using that software. Using terms they do not understand well leads them to confusion and makes them feel uncomfortable.

Keep the scenarios short
The biggest challenge during the test was keeping the testers focused in their tasks. You want to keep the scenarios short with just enough information so you can keep them interested without going overboard with details.

In the upcoming weeks you will be able to see these tips “in action” since we will  create more scenario tasks for GNOME applications.


4 thoughts on “Scenario tasks

  1. Great post! Yes, the ideal scenario task sets a brief context, then asks the tester to do something specific. The goal should be clear enough that the tester will know when they have completed the task.

    It’s also important when creating your scenario tasks to remain aware of the order your testers will do the tasks. Make sure your scenario tasks don’t artificially lead to success. For example, when I was writing scenario tasks to examine the GNOME file manager (Nautilus) I accidentally created a set of scenario tasks that (when done in order) would always lead to success when searching for a file. The default in Nautilus is to start searching from where you are, and my previous scenario task asked the tester to do some things at the top of the folder “tree” where the “lost” file could be found in the following scenario task.

    So I changed my “search” scenario task to look for a file in a completely different folder “tree.” I moved the “lost” file to a different location and used this scenario task:

    “7. You would like to update a draft of your space article, which you started several weeks ago. You don’t remember where you last saved the file, so you need to find it. Find the file ‘Draft of space article.txt’. When you find it, open it.”

    Scenario task 6 had the tester working in ‘~/Documents/Space Photo Project’ so I moved the ‘Draft of space article.txt’ file to ~/Downloads.


  2. Thanks for writing about your experience with the scenario tasks from your first contribution. It’s good to learn from that exercise. 🙂


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