Layered Scenario Mapping

Layered scenario mapping is a technique used to gain insight into the ‘situation one designs for’. It is a systemic technique and emphasises presenting information in different layers going from an overview to very detailed information. The technique proposes a structured approach to collecting and presenting data and provides a template for sorting and presenting the data in a layered manner hierarchically, spatially, and temporally.

By Sigrun Lurås

The technique is discussed in a paper published by CoDesign International Journal of CoCreation in Design and the Arts. (Lurås 2016) 

In a paper (1) published in CoDesign, I introduce Layered Scenario Mapping, a mapping technique we developed in the Ulstein Bridge Concept project to address issues we had with coping with vast amounts of data from field research. The technique was developed to meet the needs we faced when designing a ship’s bridge; however, it may also prove valuable when designing for other contexts where the spatial and/or temporal dimensions are of importance. A guide enabling others to use the technique is available online.

Representing outputs from field research

A range of techniques for representing field research exists in design, including scenarios (2), task analyses (3), contextmapping (4), customer journey maps, work models (5) and many more. We found, however, that none of the existing techniques catered for our needs of getting an overview and details at the same time. Some of the techniques provided the detail, but lacked the context (e.g. task analysis). Others provided contextual insights, but lacked the necessary level of detail (e.g. contextmapping).

We developed Layered Scenario Mapping for three reasons:

  • to get a framework that would help us understand the context and the individual parts of the situation we designed for, as well as how the parts relate to the whole and to other parts;
    to facilitate the sharing of data collected, and insights gained among the team;
    to present the situation we designed for at the level of granularity necessary to gain an in-depth level of understanding.

The map

Layered Scenario Mapping is a systemic design method aimed at helping designers understand the system they design for. The resulting map represents this system. Our map layout consists of overview information to the left and detailed information to the right.

The overview provides the reader with a frame of reference to use when deciphering the detailed information. In our map the overview includes a descriptive title, a visual presentation of the ship’s technical specifications, a description of the scene and introduction to the scenario, a presentation of the actors involved in the scenario, a written scenario story, and document information.

The detailed information is presented using a ‘timeline matrix’, with a step-by-step description of what goes on and key information related to each step. In our map, the following is included:

  • a visual presentation of the vessel’s position in relation to other objects, such as the port and the rig;
  • the mode of operation, indicating what kinds of rules apply and what technical mode the vessel is in;
  • a short description of what happens;
  • the actors involved, and who communicates with whom and by what means;
  • a visual presentation of the users’ positions on the bridge, shown in a bird’s-eye view;
  • what equipment is used;
  • the information and functionality the users need to be able to carry out each task; and
  • illustrative photos to provide contextual information.

Our experiences

We found that the map made it easier to make use of data from different sources. The way the data had been filtered, sorted, and put into a framework made the data more accessible and easier to share among the team. The description of what happens in the timeline matrix was the most-used part of the map. The visual elements were particularly important in gaining a broader understanding of the scenario.

We used the map individually when developing design ideas and in collaborative sessions to discuss the appropriateness of ideas. The map invited comments, corrections, and clarifying questions and thus facilitated mutual knowledge development. The map became a ‘boundary object’ (6) that we used internally within the project team and also in communication with users and other stakeholders. For an in-depth discussion of our experiences with the map and a review of its appropriateness, see the CoDesign paper.

Further developments

Layered Scenario Mapping can be developed further in many directions. The content of the map could be elaborated upon and expanded. As an example, we mapped out the scenario from the deck officer’s perspective only and believe we could have gained broader insight if we had also mapped out the scenario from the perspectives of several actors. Also, due to limited time, we made a paper-based map only. A digitised version could ease sharing and exploring the digital material collected during field studies.

The guide describing the technique is not intended as a definitive recipe but rather meant as a useful starting point for others who would like to do their own Layered Scenario Mapping. I encourage others to develop the technique further!


1 Lurås, Sigrun. 2015. “Layered Scenario Mapping: A Multidimensional Mapping Technique for Collaborative Design.” CoDesign. doi:10.1080/15710882.2015.1072221.

2 See for example: Carroll, John M, ed. 1995. Scenario-Based Design: Envisioning Work and Te.chnology in Systems Development. New York: Wiley. Buxton, Bill. 2007. Sketching User Experiences: Getting the Design Right and the Right Design. San Francisco, CA: Morgan Kaufmann. Bødker, Susanne. 2000. “Scenarios in User-centred Design – Setting the Stage for Reflection and Action.” Interacting with Computers 13 (1): 61–75.

3 Kirwan, Barry, and Les K Ainsworth. 1992. A Guide to Task Analysis. London: Taylor & Francis.

4 Sleeswijk Visser, Froukje, Pieter Jan Stappers, Remko van der Lugt, and Elizabeth B-N Sanders. 2005. “Contextmapping: Experiences from Practice.” CoDesign 1 (2): 119–149.

5 Beyer, Hugh, and Karen Holtzblatt. 1998. Contextual Design : Defining Customer-Centered Systems. San Fransisco, Calif: Morgan Kaufmann.

6 Star, Susan Leigh, and James R. Griesemer. 1989. “Institutional Ecology, ‘Translations’ and Boundary Objects: Amateurs and Professionals in Berkeley’s Museum of Vertebrate Zoology, 1907–39.” Social Studies of Science 19 (3): 387–420.


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