As today’s website visitors get increasingly sophisticated about what they want from a website, it’s important for companies and organizations to deliver the right online experience. So, when embarking on a project to create or redesign your website, make sure you know your audience, how they interact with your site, and what their needs are.
You can gather that intelligence through a variety of research methods, including surveys, interviews, focus groups, and usability tests. Once you have the information, the question is how to best put it to use. Enter the user persona. This invaluable tool gives life to your research, condensing it into audience profiles that guide every step of the development process.
Josh Tong, a communication specialist at Catholic Relief Services, attests to the value of user personas, which SAI recently developed with Tong and his colleagues for a microsite of CRS.
"To create personas, we collected institutional knowledge about our audiences and then weighed our assumptions against evidence,” he said. “Thanks to this process, we've achieved a much better understanding of what our audiences want and need. Now, as we develop a new digital strategy, the personas have helped us work together across business units to put our users first."
What Are User Personas?
User personas are written representations of your intended users. They describe real people and their backgrounds, motivations, and pain points. They represent your most important user groups, their expectations, and how they're likely to use the website.
Personas identify a mix of user behaviors, such as how often they visit the site and on what type of device, what information they seek, and tasks they hope to accomplish. The people and names may be fictional, but the behaviors, attitudes, and motivations need to be factual.
The Benefits of User Personas
Personas are created to help guide decisions around website components, wireframes, and design. They keep you focused on the needs of your key audiences and how they use the website and what content and tools are important to them. At each step, you want to ask yourself “How would Angela navigate to this page?” or “What is the most important content that Frank needs to find?” or “What are the pages they would view most?”
In addition, personas are perfect for task analysis. This is a usability exercise where someone takes on the role of a persona and then attempts to complete a series of tasks that are critical to that persona. As you go, you rate each task as easy (green), somewhat difficult (yellow) or difficult (red) to accomplish. This will give you prioritized information on changes needed to improve your website.
How to create a user persona
Here are seven steps you can follow to create your personas:
Gather user research – user personas are the product of information
a. Talk with target audiences in focus groups and one-on-one interviews.
b. Send out surveys.
c. Conduct usability tests.
Narrow down the target audiences into specific user types. For instance, for the recent SAI project with Catholic Relief Services, two main audiences were identified: donors and field staff. Within each of those groups, however, we identified multiple personas representing different types of donors and field staff.
Add the important personal and professional details.
a. What is their gender
b. What is their age range?
c. Where do they live?
d. What is their job and responsibilities?
e. What is their level of education?
f. How computer savvy are they?
g. What devices do they use?
h. How reliable is their internet connection?
Not all of these will be important to every website, so pick out the ones that relate directly to your website. For the CRS microsite, internet connectivity was important because many of their users live overseas where access is not always reliable. Jobs, responsibilities and education were other important factors for the CRS personas.
Outline why they come to your website and the value they receive. This will help you identify the most important content and tools and make them easy to find.
a. What are their needs?
b. What information, product, or service are they seeking?
c. What motivates them to visit your website?
Get at users’ emotional side by focusing on their motivations. This information will help shape the tone of the content and the look and feel of the design.
a. Are they altruistic?
b. Does it appeal to their sense of style?
c. What are their day-to-day worries?
Put a face and a name to your personas. Make the names descriptive – such as David the donor – and use photos to help put a face to the name. This will make it easier to identify and remember each of them.
- Finally, share you personas with people who interact directly with your users and know your users best. Their expert feedback will help you refine the personas further.
Now, you are ready to put your personas in action.
Learn more about effective user research
User personas are just one tool in the user research toolbox. For a deeper look at user research methods including focus groups and interviews, surveys, card sorts, and usability tests, please attend our webinar, "Know Your Audience: Five Low-Budget, High-Impact Research Methods" on September 16, 2014.