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Designing With Personas

February 5, 2013

Personas can give you a profound and insightful view into your target audience's frame of mind and common behavior patterns—which makes personas a powerful aid during the design process. They're not just for the web design industry, personas are used to develop brands across several disciplines and industries.

What are Personas?

Personas are fictional character types based on real-world needs of customers and shareholders. They are invaluable aids in the process of developing new products or services. Many fortune 500 companies like Microsoft, Google, Facebook, Twitter many others use personas to launch new products and refine their existing brand offerings. Personas are not just for large organizations, they can be especially helpful for startups and medium-sized companies. No matter where you are in your company's growth, Personas will not only empower you to make better decisions but also refine your business model.

It is a good rule of thumb not to have too many personas per project. You don't want to inadvertently introduce dissonance into your decision-making process by having too many user preferences or features. Use the KISS Rule and Keep It Simple. Having to sort through too many features can dramatically slow your design and development process. Ideally, limit personas to no more than six types. When building a list of personas it is best to focus the UI design around a "Primary Persona".

Building The Perfect Persona

The Primary Persona is the archetype that the website can't do business without. Other personas are variants of the Primary Persona. The best way to start a persona is to review input from customers, key business goals, usability reports, interviews from primary stakeholders, or gather feedback from focus groups. The end goal is to design an interface that works for your primary persona but the other personas could use.

Some questions to ask when creating a Persona:

  • What are their demographics?
  • What is their lifestyle?
  • What are their interests?
  • Who influences their product choices?
  • What are their personal goals?
  • What are they like from an emotional perspective?
  • What are their past behaviors?
  • Why do they interact with your company and your competitors?
  • What do they want from your company?
  • Where do they look for information about your product category?
  • What type of information do they want?
  • Where are they when they look for information?

Add a face to your personas

After answering the questions above find a photograph that best describes and represents the personalities of each of your personas. Also choose a name that, in part, adds the persona category to the name such as: Sam Commenter, Jane Researcher, Bill Shopper, etc. This will help other stakeholders easily recognize or intuit, at a high level, the role of that archetype as it relates to the Web site business goals.

A really good place to find photos is from customers or other people in your organization that holds some of the attributes or values of your key personas.

How to use a persona in the design process

Remember to build your design around the needs of the primary persona. That persona is the one that the business can't do business without. When reading a persona remember that you are looking to fill that person's needs in the most efficient way possible in terms of user experience. The user interface should not make that person think, see Steven Krug book Don't Make Me Think for details, and it should be designed with their personality type and core needs in mind.

Making better design decisions

Often during the design cycle, there are layout decisions that need to be made to complete the project. As much as I hate to admit it, in many cases during the design cycle, decisions are made due to budget constraints or unfounded client recommendations. Both situations are less than ideal methods of creating and shaping a successful Web site. Web design and decisions made while shaping your new website should take a user-centered approach.

  • Example 1: If the primary persona past behaviors indicate they use search to navigate websites, then that could mean the search box should be a prominent feature in the UI.
  • Example 2: If the primary persona has indicated in their profile that they are influenced by trends then you may want to consider having some type of feature or call-to-action on in your design surrounding popularity of your product or service.
  • Example 3: If the primary persona behavior indicates a dislike for banner ads it may be a good idea to use more contextual links or content that looks closer and more relevant to site content. Studies have shown that most users completely ignore block ads and prefer to focus on content first.

There are many other examples of how you could use personas to not only shape your Web site design but also your business model. Overall point is that personas should be used to determine what features should be included in the website design to achieve the best user experience.

Testing Assumptions with Scenarios

The best way to determine if your design will meet the needs of your personas is to test, test, test and did I mention test your assumptions often. All jokes aside, testing is your best guard to prevent costly mistakes. The best method of testing your design theories, whether it be visual or business strategy, is to perform a small test with key stakeholder using Scenarios and later refine your assumptions by doing A/B testing.

What are Scenarios?

Scenarios or user stories are small tasks that you expect the user to complete that directly correlate to your business goals. SEO and SEM professionals call this convergence. Create small focus groups and also use A/B testing software to test your assumptions. Scenarios can be used to measure overall project success.

  • Task 1: Create new account in under 3 minutes
  • Task 2: Find the latest articles and videos on the site
  • Task 3: Share article or product page with at least 5 new friends
  • Task 4: Purchase 1 recommended item during shopping cart checkout
  • Task 5: Send user survey email to visitor who has not been to the site in 3 days

Conclusion and Benefits of Using Personas in User-Centered Design

The benefits are clear and speak directly to your bottom line. It mitigates the need for a long waterfall design cycle that has the potential of totally missing your target audience. User Centered Design uses personas to allow you to fell cheaply, while honing the needs of your audience. The more you understand the values of your key audiences the better you can fulfill their needs adequately thus meeting your business objectives.



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