Friday, June 15, 2012

Personas | what, why & how

Designing | part 2 

In my last blog I explained that in the lifecycle of experiencing the services/products of your company, users of your website can be visitors, customers or relations.
In every phase of the lifecycle, a user has different needs regarding the website.

To be able to create a successful, user-friendly website or application, every decision you take, whether you are part of the marketing team, the design team or the development team, should be based on what you know about the user.

But be aware of the fact that YOU are NOT the users/visitors of your website/ application.

For example:

A manager is looking at an application which is designed to be used by the customer service department within his company. He judges it and says: “I don’t understand this button!” He himself will never use the tool. His service people are working with the tool every day, therefore they have different expectations and requirements than their chief executive. For them this criticized shortcut key is one of the features they like most about the application, saving them time in processing the calls.

It is important to realize that:
  • Your visitors have different goals than you have.
  • Users/visitors don’t care about the way the product is created as you do. They have no interest in how the carefully crafted navigation system that you are selling them works, as long as they can accomplish their goals.
  • User/visitors have different skills, background, education and interests.
As you can see from this, you are not the (target) visitor of the application or the website, and… the users/visitors of your website aren’t all alike!

Personas - interview by MvOCreating a realistic character sketch which represents one or more segments of the website’s or applications target audience (a persona) helps you visualizing the user(s) of your website. This then helps you focus your effort on certain personas and aides in your decision-making during planning, design and realization.

Creating personas

During my search for user needs, - characteristics and their behavior regarding our own website I learned about them through direct contact. For example by doing user research like: 
  • User interviews and field studies; 
  • User surveys.
If you don’t have the opportunity to meet your user(s), doing desk research can also provide you with the necessary information to collect information about users.
I came to know about the goals, the behavior and the attitude of the different users and found information about their background and knowledge level regarding the website we want to design and develop.

With the information I gathered from the research, I was able to create 3 realistic character sketches (personas) which represent the different users of our Vennster website.
Personas put a face on all the user research. Each persona has a name and a face (by means of a photo), a profile and a quote from the persona that captures his/her essence and serves as one of the initial things to get a quick sense of that persona. A persona also includes personal information, domain specific information, and information about his or her computer and internet usage.  In addition to all this information it’s key to also add the business objectives you have for the persona.

For I created 3 personas:
  • the visitor (Afra - Looking for Vennsters experience);
  • the customer (Bernice - Satisfied with the Vennster consultant);
  • the relation (Carl – How can Vennster and my company cooperate?).

Underneath for example part of the description of Carl - the persona representing the Vennster relation.

Besides the information about the characteristics and an indication of their lifestyle and identity, the description of what motivates them, their experience with computers, internet and which websites they prefer helps to give the character more depth in areas that are relevant for our website. 

Prioritizing personas

Sometimes you find personas have conflicting needs with regards to the website. In our case the technical persona (Carl) knows the jargon but the business user (Afra) is not familiar with the technical terms. A way of dealing with that conflict is to prioritize the personas.
Together with Vennsters management I figured out which persona is the most important to satisfy by deciding which one is the most (financially) valuable to Vennster as a company.  This primary persona is the one for whom we will optimize the site.
Furthermore we as Vennster decided what we will do with the needs of the other personas. Possible solutions are micro sites, a blog for the more technical user, etc. 

The benefits of personas

As this example shows, personas have the following benefits:
  • Personas bring focus.
  • Personas build empathy, not only because of the fact that they have a face and a name, but also because it is as if you really know them personally.
  • Personas encourage consensus. They bring the marketing-, design-, development team together and create one shared vision of exactly whom the team is designing for and what the users want:
    • Business development; developing a strategy that fits the client.
    • Marketing; seducing the user/visitor.
    • Technical development;  developing with the user in mind.
  • Personas create efficiency. They help the whole team to decide what to create in the first place.
  • Personas lead to better decisions; every decision the team makes can be linked to users in a defensible way.
Source of information: 'The User Is Always Right' by S.Mulder with Z.Yaar.

Above mentioned benefits indicate the role of personas in the UX design process. Using personas ensures that marketers, copywriters, designers and developers during the development of the site do not lose sight of the users/visitors when taking crucial decisions.

In my next blog I will tell you more on how to put personas in motion by making them the main characters in user scenarios - stories of how a persona interacts with - and why doing this helps you design and develop a usable website/application.