Getting to know your users

No matter how dedicated you are to producing a user centric website it is all too easy to loose sight of your users needs. One way of keeping them front and centre is to give them a face and a name.

It is something the advertising industry realised years ago; it is easier to develop a campaign for a person with a name and a face than it is to develop for a theoretical demographic group. With that realisation persona sketching was born.

What is a persona?

Persona sketching is a fancy name for a simple idea (trust the advertising world to come up with a fancy name for it). Through a combination of imagination and good old fashion research, you endeavour to build up a picture of a typical user. A persona often covers things like:

  • Occupation
  • Gender
  • Age
  • Marital status
  • Hobbies
  • Web usage
  • Location

How to build a persona

Unsurprisingly, to build an accurate persona can be a time consuming and expensive process. However in web design where the budgets do not compare with the world of advertising there are ways of ensuring that your personas are as accurate as possible without breaking the bank. Some methods might include:

  • Speak to those within the organisation who have contact with end users
  • Talk to friends and family, see if you can find anybody who is a potential user
  • Look at the competition and try to find out what sort of face they put on their users
  • Talk to other stakeholders and get their perception of the end user

By combining these "rough and ready" techniques with a good dollop of imagination, you should be able to come up with something like this. Try to ensure that the personas you develop have a sense of real personality about them. Detail helps a persona feel more real and easier to associate with.

Depending on the size of your site and the breadth of your audience, you may end up developing a number of personas each one representing a different target audience.

Using your personas

Once you have all of your personas in place you can use them throughout the development process from design to final implementation. Think of them as a plumb line against which you measure all of the decisions you make. Continually ask yourself how Sara would feel about filling in this form or whether Paul will have the patience to wait for this to download.

How effective persona sketching is can be debated but I have found it a helpful tool in the past to focus the mind especially when a site has to appeal to a very wide demographic.

Further reading

Personas: Matching a Design to the Users’ Goals – Christine Perfetti
Practical Persona Creation – D. Keith Robinson
Perfecting Your Personas – Kim Goodwin
Bringing Your Personas to Life in Real Life – Elan Freydenson

See also:

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