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Naughty use case scenarios

§ Information design

Adam Greenfield has just published an eye opening article [or the PDF to avoid irritating Flash movie] for Vodafone’s Receiver magazine on the subject of use cases, or more particularly perverting our current idea of use cases in favour of ‘designing for deception, dishonesty, and other happy facts of human nature’:

[Use cases] start with a neatly conventional circumstance (‘Jill wants to buy a new ringtone’) and end in a similarly pat fulfillment (‘Jill successfully downloads and installs the ringtone’).

I have never seen a use case that starts with a proposition like ‘Greta wants to sneak out and meet her lover Patrick, without making her husband Bertrand suspicious.’ Or ‘Kenji wants his private contact information to be more available to his close friends than the random boys he picks up clubbing.’ Or ‘Claudia wants to IM and play games on her computer at work, while making it seem as if she’s busy getting things done.’

And yet, experience tells us that’s just what people do with technology.

Greenfield calls the gap between the assumptions and the reality ‘fault lines’. Slightly unfairly, he cites the relative failure of SMS in the North American market as an example of a use case without a market. Given the massive take-up of texting in Europe this probably came as a surprise to the likes of Vodafone: everyone in Britain who owns a mobile phone uses SMS. My Mum and Dad text, and they hardly ever have their phone turned on. I sent three texts today, and I don’t even like mobile phones. Her indoors organises her social life through SMS. That said, the cell networks over here decided to cooperate with each other – something that failed to happen in the US as I understand it. I digress.

Greenfield goes on to suggest that it would be ‘unexpected and fun’ if we could include a few edge situations in our use cases. After all, use cases often reflect what we want users to do rather than what they actually do. A bit of imagination and lateral thinking never did anyone any harm.