Are you using them?
I used to joke that 50% of any UX project was anticipating and planning for edge cases — all the stuff that can take people off the happy path. I was wrong. That number should be more like 80%.
True. In any project, I’ve found that designing the desired flow is a snap compared to the myriad edge cases. Actually, many edge cases aren’t edge cases at all, they’re just states that are less than ideal or unplanned for.
Often, these cases are revealed through user testing or after a product has launched via user feedback, but it’s critical to try to anticipate as many as possible in advance. A simple framework is simply to ask What if…?
- What if the user is a minor?
- What if the internet connection dies?
- What if the user is colorblind?
- What if English isn’t their first language?
- What if they have a motor impairment?
- What if they haven’t saved anything yet?
- What if the confirmation email never arrived?
- What if the plugin is blocked in China?
- What if there’s a server error?
- What if they can’t remember which email they used?
Asking What if…? should happen throughout the product development cycle. For example, I try to identify as many What if…? scenearios as possible when developing my project brief—some will fall into functional specs, others into product requirements, others into a general bucket of issues to resolve. I ask What if…? while designing my user flows, and then when I’m creating my low- and/or high-fidelity prototypes.
Obviously, I look for them during user testing, and try to gauge them after launch by keeping an eye on analytics. In fact, to bring a little more rigor to my practice, I’ve begun compiling common What if…? questions in a Google Sheet, categorizing them by scenario and context, and adding typical or potential solutions.
Whatever your UX practice, get in the habit of asking What if…? Most people and their contexts are going to throw a wrench in the works, and asking this simple question over and over might be the difference between success and failure.
Thanks for reading!