Real Life is Not An Edge Case

How to improve your testing through stress cases

Real life happens for all of us, in spite of our "happy path" for user flows in our applications. That doesn't make real life an edge case, but a stress case to be considered and tested against.

In our testing, we often categorize flows and experiences into “happy paths” and “negative paths”, roughly following use cases, but finding weaknesses and risks in our unique ways. We sometimes think about personas, putting ourselves in the shoes of another, with details fleshed out about hobbies and coffee preferences. We can also think about stress cases, which are where these personas meet the road.

People have bad days, crises, and accidents all the time, and real life does not relegate them to the dreaded category of “edge cases”. Stress cases are when Facebook releases its “year in review”, intending to celebrate your year, but instead plastering your wall with pictures of your dead child.

Stress cases are searching for an emergency room and receiving a Google Maps ad for urgent care. Stress cases are how to operate your phone when you’re carrying a squirming child or traveling in an elevator or tunnel. Stress cases are real life. And people are not edge cases.

This talk will present examples of stress cases and explore how we can expand our mindset and analysis to include them in our testing. We will discuss the overlap of accessibility with stress cases and how to enhance flows and UI to improve the experience for everyone. We will also talk about the limits of stress cases and the need for outside perspective.