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Designing for Edge Cases

Learn more about the importance of designing for edge cases.

When developing products or services, it can be helpful to create scenarios or use cases that help us understand how what we’re designing can best meet the needs of stakeholders. However, a common mistake is to only plan for the perfect scenario. In this video, Hera talks you through what it means to design for ‘edge cases’, which are unusual scenarios that deviate from the perfect path.

To expand on the video Jesse Weaver states there are two types of edge cases (1):

Technical Edge Cases

This is where something goes wrong on the technical side of the scenario. Jesse notes an example of this might be where someone is engaging with a social media platform and there is an error in the photo upload process and it fails to upload, or a user inputs incorrect data in a form or survey and the system doesn’t have anything in place to deal with that. These sorts of errors should be dealt with through testing but so often they can slip through, which is why it’s important to think through as many scenarios as possible.

Contextual Edge Cases

These are behavioural deviations that stray from the perfect scenario. Examples of this in the context of social media might be where someone has uploaded a photo that is offensive or pornographic or uploaded a photo of someone who doesn’t want that photo to be online. Behavioural edge cases can have serious real-world consequences and are really important to attempt to address in the design process. Failing to do so can potentially lead to harm for your stakeholders.

As Hera explains, often, the products and services we create can have positive or negative outcomes that we haven’t accounted for. To design for edge cases is to be prepared for all potential scenarios. Another important reason to design for edge cases is to move away from problematic ideas of there being an ideal user for your product or service and begin to identify and design for all potential stakeholders. Edge cases are bound to happen, so it’s important to design for them, and doing so will only create a more robust and enjoyable experience for your stakeholders.

It’s important to note that while it’s useful to understand the difference between technical and contextual edge cases, there are many times when the boundary is blurred and an edge case might have both technical and contextual consequences.

Were you aware of the concept of edge cases before? Have you ever thought about an edge case in a project you were working on? Share your thoughts below and remember to respond to your fellow learners


  1. Jesse Weaver, 2019. Edge Cases are Real and They are Hurting Your Users.
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