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Use Case Basics

Generic Use Case diagram

Today I explained a bit about Use Cases to a new client. Most sites, especially Web applications, absolutely benefit from even a little bit of Use Case analysis. It sounds technical, and can be (perhaps should be), but doesn’t have to be. It’s worth considering, even for a simple site.

UI/UX Purists, please look away

Some very basic background info on Use Cases (for newbies, not meant for purists):

Essentially you have the following:

1. Description
an overview of the Use Case. “Conducting a Search,” or “Conducting a multi-category Search,” or “Browsing a Topic.”
2. Scope
The limits of the case at hand. Can be very specific, as in “Looking up a Resource,” or more broad, “Researching health care rights in Iowa.”
3. Stakeholders / Interests
In terms of a search, it is the searcher. For the overall site, it is you, the people searching, and the organizations in the db.
4. Actors & Goals
Who are they and what do they want to accomplish
5. Usage scenarios
An example of the experience a given user (Persona) might, or ought to, have.

Personas can be Fun

Generally, the more specific the better. Give your “Personas” names. e.g.:

  • Gloria, an advocate for better schools, has a presentation to make to the City Council this evening. She has 20 minutes to assemble an info packet she can print out, xerox and leave with them. She also wants to find some statistics for her 5-minute talk. She’s distracted because she’s doing this at work and the boss keeps coming by. Her comfort level with technology is so-so. She doesn’t really trust or like computers.
  • Theodore Cummings III teaches is a Sociology professor at Rutgers. He’s preparing his syllabus and wants a few links to give his students for the Intro to Sociology class. He also wants to know if there are any new studies, articles or even organizations devoted to the topic of access to health care. Dr. Cummings has a great deal of experience researching online, and has a sophisticated understanding of how to use advanced search functions such as “AND” vs “OR”, wildcard tokens and the like.
  • Janie is 10. She’s preparing a report for class about non-profits in her town…

Etc. (the preceding examples might apply to a health care resources database)

Further Reading

This Fat Purple article is pretty good:

Use Case – User Scenario

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