Why use cases are so important to great design

I frequently hear from people that are having issues using an application. This can be with either software or web applications. It usually goes something to this tune:

  • Can we add a checkbox in case we don’t want it to work that way
  • This feature doesn’t work
  • I need to be able to add the same thing 10 times

Of course this type of feedback is ambiguous and raises a lot of questions. Some of the feedback even tries to be helpful by providing a solution in the form of a problem.

In all of these examples, the underlying goal is obfuscated. You don’t know what the person is trying to do, what they are thinking, or where they are. Finding out the use case will help you understand a number of things. This usually ends up being one of the following:

  1. The person needs to be educated in how to use the program
  2. A bug in the application
  3. An improvement that could be made
  4. A use case or workflow that hasn’t been accounted for

Sometimes you will hear of suggestions and feedback that only have the value of “being nice to know”. Nice to know doesn’t produce results or help you achieve anything. “Nice to know” is an entertainment feature. It clutters the application. It does nothing but complicate the design and make important features hidden.

The other red flags are technical features that are merely “nice to have”. These are the type of features that sometimes software developers come up with that write the application. The use case is solving a technical possibility – not a real issue. These suggestions are masked in very technical situations that people might get in. They are usually rarely, if ever, needed – or asked for. Be very careful with these. They sound clever and useful, but provide very little real world value.

What makes solving for use cases so important is that they keep your design simple, focused, and uncluttered. Computers are designed to help people “do” things. If an issue or solution can’t have solid logic for solving a real problem, it should be questioned on whether it really needs to be included at all.