Personas: Designing for People

A persona is a profile of a representative customer. Personas put a human face on “the user” of a Web site, reminding us that we are designing for people.

User personas to describe your audienceWhen working on a technology “product” such as a Web site, it’s too easy to be caught up in the bells and whistles. We do because we can. Nobody ever set out to create a difficult to navigate and unwieldy Web site. However, being human, we sometimes serve ourselves, build for ourselves, and unintentionally forget our customers. Personas help us maintain focus on the customer.

Using personas in Web design also helps avoid creating a one-size-fits-all design with loads of features intended to satisfy a wide range of tasks, yet in reality, satisfies nobody.  Using personas also helps us define the scenarios to be tracked by Web analytics tools and allows us to describe the conversion goals that Web analytics track.

Here’s how you can create personas that will be useful in design, project, stakeholder management, and analytics:

  1. Understand your primary target audience.  Decide which groups of people will be the of focus your design energy.  Explicitly decide which groups of people are secondary.
  2. Construct personas in enough detail so that the target profiles come alive.  Include goals, motivations, preferences, demographics, and their familiarity with technology.
  3. Research important missing information.  Conduct surveys or usability studies.  If you can’t get to representatives of your customers, talk to the people who most regularly talk to or serve them, i.e. sales, order desk, delivery or customer service representatives.
  4. Give each persona a name (call them Sue, Surinder or Sam).
  5. Find an appropriate photo.  Photos visually reinforce who Sue, Surinder and Sam are.
  6. Publish these personas.  Introduce Sue, Surinder and Sam to all project team members, stakeholders and sponsors.

Diligently practice. Don’t file the personas in the “done” file!  Each time there’s an urge to discuss what “the user” needs, wants or would do, refer to Sue, Surinder or Sam. Lead by example.  Encourage your team to ask questions like:

  • What words might Sue be looking for?
  • What would Surinder want to do here?
  • Would this cause a problem with Sam?
  • If I do X to satisfy Sue, will Sam still be able to complete the task he needs to do?
  • …hmm…half the visitors fitting Sam’s persona don’t seem to be completing the scenario as designed.  What on the Web site may be getting in their way?

Persist.  Like using any new skill or process, using personas will feel a bit artificial the first time you use them in design.  Focusing on who the design needs to ultimately serve is very helpful in diffusing the tension that sometimes arises between stakeholders and participants in a project.  To experience the power of personas, persist in using personas for one project cycle from scoping to go-live.

Sue, Surinder and Sam will thank you.  Watch your campaign and Web site conversion rise.