Monday, July 11, 2011

Personas on the wall help the development team to focus

Recently I helped an insurance company to improve the User Experience of a website that had been specifically designed to sell their new internet service to young people with no kids.

The problem

A year after the launch of this service, the site had generated fewer sales amongst young people than expected. On top of that, older people and families, formerly regular customers, (not part of the target group) used the website to exchange their current service policy for this new (cheaper) internet service. That had explicitly not been the companies intention. They wondered what they could do about that.

The cause

I reviewed the current website and noticed that it was mostly designed from a business point of view.

  • All technical details about the service, the preconditions, the costs and the coverage were incorporated in the site, however not easy to find.
  • The language used to present the product was very formal and contained terminology hard to understand by young people, who are not familiar with the insurance business.
  • The range of services and appliances, offered by the site, was based more on availability (‘we have it in our assortment, so why not offer it!’) then on the needs of the target group.

When designing a website it is important to reckon with the business goals. In this case those goals are very clear, well contemplated and researched. However to develop a good and suitable User Experience it takes more than just business goals.

The solution

Know the user

The company acknowledged that they didn’t know much about the visitors of their website. Therefore I defined the personas[1] which represent the target group for their service offer.

Based on analysis of the target group, I found answers to questions like:

  • What are the user’s goals and priorities?
  • How do they behave?
  • Which attitudes do they have?
  • Their education
  • Their knowledge about the domain
  • Their use of a computer and internet
  • Their income and expenses

I segmented the information and created the personas. Per persona, I had their characteristics, their name (Fabio & Maggie) and a representative photo, printed at poster size.

Don’t lose sight of the user

Everywhere, where Fabio and Maggie were presented to the different project team members, I attached their posters on the wall. By doing this, the personas are visible during the whole presentation. I saw a look of recognition among the audience. They saw the characteristics and priorities of the target group and surprisingly noticed that these are not similar to their own.

From that moment on, no one in the team talked about ‘personas’ anymore. They all now call them by their fictive name as if Fabio & Maggie themselves are part of the team.

I advised the company to put the posters on the wall at each department which is involved in developing the website. By doing this, Fabio and Maggie will always be in their mind (“What would Fabio & Maggie think | do | want | need?” ) when taking any crucial decisions during the development process.

Involve the user

In the next steps of the project I wrote user scenarios based on Fabio & Maggie. I completed the requirement specification with user requirements. Till then the requirement list mainly contained technical and functional requirements.

I did a cardsort research involving the target group, in order to structure the content of the website based on the user’s perspective.

While Fabio & Maggie were hanging on the wall, I designed the website navigation structure in wireframes in close corporation with the graphic designers who gave the website a look & feel which suited both Fabio and Maggie.

The website developers are currently working on the end result. They also are familiar with Fabio & Maggie. It would be good if they’d run some usability tests during the development process with real users of the target group. By doing that in an early stage of the process, there is still time left to improve the design in favor of the user, before it is launched.

[1] A persona is a realistic character sketch representing one segment of a website’s targeted audience | Source: The User is Always Right by Steve Mulder with Ziv Yaar.