User Personas in Website Development
Creating a set of User Personas can help put you in the shoes of the different types of visitor who come to your website and see its design, structure and content from a new perspective.
It’s a useful exercise wherever you are in your website’s development, but it can be particularly helpful in the early planning stages when considering foundational elements such as key functionality and information architecture.
What is a User Persona?
A user persona is essentially a mini profile of one of your website visitors. There isn’t a prescribed format it should take but it is usual to include a name, some basic biographical info and notes about that visitor’s aims for visiting your site with the corresponding activities they are likely to carry out once they arrive. Here’s an example of a very basic user persona taken from a recent project for an event website:
Ideally the personas you create will be based in fact, drawn from user research such as surveys, stakeholder interviews or usability tesing. But if this isn’t available then drawing on some common-sense assumptions about the kinds of visitors who are likely to visit your site is fine as long as you remember that’s what they are, assumptions.
The aim is simply to represent a good cross-section of your website visitors and identify their particular wants and needs when using your site. In addition to the the goals your visitors might want to achieve you may also wish to include the activities you would like them to complete. This could be joining your mailing list, purchasing a product or simply accessing a particular page.
But the more specific you can be with your personas the more useful they will be. Often it makes sense to break down groups of users into a number of sub-profiles, adding in more detail about what is particular to them. For example if we think about a ‘Potential Clients’ group of visitors to The Pixel Parlour website, we know that the informational needs / interests of a professional marketing manager at a large enterprise can be very different to those of an individual exploring the options to get a new site created for their startup.
User Personas created, now what?
At the start of a project the process of creating a set of user personas usually triggers all kinds of ideas about a new site’s design and often also raises some additional questions about exactly who your visitors are and what motivates them, both of which you’ll probably wish to explore more.
As the site develops user personas can be used as a quick reference to help evaluate design and content decisions.
We can ask how design idea X serves the needs of visitor Y, in light of what we understand about their objectives when they come to the site?
They’re also a create communication tool, helping to condense down a lot of often very dry research data into a form which can be readily understood by anyone across an organisation. At The Pixel Parlour we’ve found them incredibly useful for helping to show how certain design/development decisions have been arrived at.
Sometimes thinking about a website from a different perspectives is all that’s needed to come up with those design or content breakthroughs which really can make all the difference. User Personas are a great tool for this. But although they might seem a bit like PreCrime for User Experience Design it’s important to remember that they aren’t a replacement for true visitor research and testing, but rather a compliment to them. We find that for most clients the process of creating personas is actually a spur to carry out additional research to fill in the gaps in the current understanding or to run usability testing with particular groups to see if they have responded to a new design in the way which was expected.
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