Encyclopedia of Behavioral Medicine

Living Edition
| Editors: Marc Gellman

Scenario Based Design

  • Colleen Stiles-ShieldsEmail author
Living reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-1-4614-6439-6_101954-1



Scenario-based design is a validated and user-centered design approach, used early in the design process of a technology or product, which relies upon “scenarios” or stories to capture the elements of interaction between a person and a future product.


Scenario-based design (SBD) refers to a family of validated user-centered design approaches that use “scenarios,” or stories, to inform the design of a technology or product. These scenarios are narratives, which may be in the form of text, storyboards, videos, etc. The scenarios are created and utilized to concretely define a user’s experience of an interaction with a technology, what happens during that interaction, and how it happens. Indeed, given that scenarios are like stories, they have characters, character goals and actions, and a plot within a larger setting. Through the use of scenarios, the use of the product becomes contextualized and more explicit, thereby informing ultimate design decisions (Carroll 1985; Rosson and Carroll 2002).

Use in the Design of Behavioral Intervention Technologies

SBD is increasingly being utilized in the field of behavioral medicine, primarily in designing behavioral intervention technologies (BITs). As BITs tend to be designed by interdisciplinary teams, ranging from engineers to psychologists (Schueller et al. 2014), SBD lends well to the design process across disciplines. Indeed, SBD’s use of scenarios to contextualize a BIT interaction is similar to the use of case vignettes to establish clinical practice techniques (a training practice common in medical and clinical fields), while also being a design approach familiar to technologists, usability experts, and engineers. Further, the use of SBD provides a common framework and language for the interdisciplinary team to utilize throughout the design process (Carroll 2000). Recent examples of the use of SBD include BITs targeting well-being and mental health in youth (Blythe and Wright 2006; Bødker 2000; Orlowski et al. 2015) and apps targeting symptoms of depression and anxiety in adults (Mohr et al. 2017; Stiles-Shields et al. 2016). Additionally, in examining the impact of the use of SBD in the design of medication alerts for prescribers, system usability improved, errors were reduced, and the prescribers reported a decrease in perceived work load (Russ et al. 2014). For the purposes of direct application of SBD to the design process of BITs, the remainder of the description of SBD will utilize the design of a mobile treatment app for adults with depression as an example.


The framework of SBD involves three primary phases: Analysis, Design, and Prototype and Evaluation (Rosson and Carroll 2002). The first phase of the framework is Analysis, in which claims about current practices and possible stakeholders are identified through the use of Problem Scenarios. Problem Scenarios depict the story of a user in a current practice. To represent the user, personas are often created to elucidate the benefits and challenges that may be incorporated and/or addressed through the design process. For the example of the design of an app for depression, the persona demographics could be informed by samples of adults interested in treatments delivered through technology, treatment-seeking patients in traditional community or clinic settings, and/or national prevalence rates of adults with depression. These personas would be individualized (e.g., “Sara,” a 21-year-old Latina with moderate depression who moved to a new city within the last year), and then used in Problem Scenarios designed to highlight benefits and challenges associated with seeking depression treatment through current practices (e.g., face-to-face therapy, medication, and/or self-help resources). A Claims Analysis would follow, with the intention to reveal positive and negative features about current practice. For example, a design team might consider varying positive (e.g., a therapist can directly address “Sara’s” concerns as they are brought up in the moment) and negative (e.g., “Sara” might need to wait several weeks for an initial therapy session, possibly impacting her motivation and symptomology) features of a face-to-face therapy session (e.g., a “current practice” for depression treatment). A stakeholder analysis would also follow. Stakeholders include anyone who might be impacted by the product. Stakeholders might have conflicting interests from other stakeholders, and may be Primary (use the product), Secondary (provide input or receive output from the product), or Tertiary (no direct involvement but effected by successes or failures). For example, in the design of an app for adults with depression, stakeholders might include: patients with depression (Primary); researchers and clinical providers (Secondary); and users of future iterations of the app, the immediate social network of the patient, referral sources, developers and technologists, and other mHealth researchers (Tertiary). Through the Analysis process of SBD, designers elucidate the positive and negative elements of current practices for stakeholders, while identifying how a new product will maintain, enhance, or alter current practice (Carroll 1985; Rosson and Carroll 2002).

The second phase of the SBD framework is Design, in which multiple iterations of designs are completed through analyses of Design Claims informed by Activity Scenarios, Information Design Scenarios, and Interaction Design Scenarios. Activity Scenarios are persona interactions with the new technology, and therefore serve as initial depictions of the transformation from the current practice to the new design features. The intended output of Activity Scenarios is Design Claims, which detail new features and their purposes. For example, an Activity Scenario for the design of an app for depression may depict “Sara” locating the app on an app store and learning about the functionality through pop up notifications at app launch; a Design Claim from this scenario would include brief, informative notifications at initial launch. Information Design Scenarios add nuance to the Activity Scenarios, such that they make perceptual details more explicit. The ultimate aim of this process is to identify how a user might perceive or interpret the product and/or information provided. For example, an Information Design Scenario would describe specifically what the launch notification reads to “Sara” and how she might interpret that information. Finally, Interaction Design Scenarios extend the design process initiated by the previous scenarios by explicitly detailing the actions a user might take, and how the system would respond. For example, these scenarios would provide step-by-step information about “Sara’s” launch of the app, what is presented, how she proceeds, etc. Throughout the Design phase of the SBD framework, multiple iterations are completed across personas to inform and enrich the design (Carroll 1985; Rosson and Carroll 2002).

The final phase of the SBD framework is Prototype and Evaluation. Resulting from the multiple iterations of scenarios created during the Analysis and Design phases, Prototypes may be created as preliminary models of aspects of the designed product. Prototypes may range from simple (e.g., paper drawings, tending to be less costly and time intensive) to complex/realistic (e.g., an initial version of a mobile app, tending to have greater validity). The purpose of creating prototypes in the SBD process is to engage in usability evaluations of the designs. These evaluations may be formative (i.e., occurring during the design and development) or summative (i.e., occurring at the end of the development stage; Tullis and Albert 2008; Please see “Usability Testing” entry for more information). This evaluative process enables teams to finalize their designs and prepare for the ultimate creation of a new product.


Multiple benefits of SBD have been highlighted in the literature. First, scenarios evoke careful attention and reflection for design teams through their use of depictions of persona experiences with the product. This process often highlights how well design ideas align with ultimate user and designer goals. Second, scenarios allow for flexibility, in that they are easily revised, but can also promote concrete solutions to identified problems. Third, scenarios can be created from multiple perspectives and levels, and for varying purposes. They can anchor design discussions in specific work products, across multiple disciplines, and design team members. Finally, scenarios are easily abstracted and categorized, promoting the recognition, use, and reuse of generalizations or patterns that emerge in interactions with the designed product (Carroll 1985, 2000; Rosson and Carroll 2002). SBD therefore stands as a promising and accessible means for interdisciplinary teams to design BITs, or other products which may promote behavioral health.


References and Further Reading

  1. Blythe, M. A., & Wright, P. C. (2006). Pastiche scenarios: Fiction as a resource for user centred design. Interacting with Computers, 18(5), 1139–1164.  https://doi.org/10.1016/j.intcom.2006.02.001.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Bødker, S. (2000). Scenarios in user-centred design—Setting the stage for reflection and action. Interacting with Computers, 13(1), 61–75.  https://doi.org/10.1016/S0953-5438(00)00024-2.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Carroll, J. M. (1985). Scenario-based design: Envisioning work and technology in system development. New York: Wiley.Google Scholar
  4. Carroll, J. M. (2000). Five reasons for scenario-based design. Interacting with Computers, 13(1), 43–60.  https://doi.org/10.1016/S0953-5438(00)00023-0.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Mohr, D. C., Tomasino, K. N., Lattie, E. G., Palac, H. L., Kwasny, M. J., Weingardt, K., et al. (2017). IntelliCare: An eclectic, skills-based app suite for the treatment of depression and anxiety. Journal of Medical Internet Research, 19(1).  https://doi.org/10.2196/jmir.6645.
  6. Orlowski, S. K., Lawn, S., Venning, A., Winsall, M., Jones, G. M., Wyld, K., et al. (2015). Participatory research as one piece of the puzzle: A systematic review of consumer involvement in design of technology-based youth mental health and well-being interventions. JMIR Human Factors, 2(2).  https://doi.org/10.2196/humanfactors.4361.
  7. Rosson, M. B., & Carroll, J. M. (2002). Usability engineering: Scenario-based development of human-computer interaction. San Francisco: Morgan Kaufmann.Google Scholar
  8. Russ, A. L., Zillich, A. J., Melton, B. L., Russell, S. A., Chen, S., Spina, J. R., et al. (2014). Applying human factors principles to alert design increases efficiency and reduces prescribing errors in a scenario-based simulation. Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association, 21(e2), e287–e296.  https://doi.org/10.1136/amiajnl-2013-002045.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  9. Schueller, S. M., Begale, M., Penedo, F. J., & Mohr, D. C. (2014). Purple: A modular system for developing and deploying behavioral intervention technologies. Journal of Medical Internet Research, 16(7).  https://doi.org/10.2196/jmir.3376.
  10. Stiles-Shields, C., Montague, E., & Mohr, D. C. (2016). The use of scenario-based design for the development of behavioral intervention technologies. International Society for Research on Internet Interventions (ISRII) 8th scientific meeting, Washington, DC.Google Scholar
  11. Tullis, T., & Albert, B. (2008). Measuring the user experience: Collecting, analyzing, and presenting usability metrics. Burlington: Morgan Kaufmann Publishers.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media LLC 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Loyola UniversityChicagoUSA

Section editors and affiliations

  • Emily Lattie
    • 1
  1. 1.Dept. of Preventive MedicineNorthwestern UniversityChicagoUSA