Personas are a great tool for focusing the organisation on users and their goals.
Personas enable development teams to focus on the issues of greatest importance to users, and deliver them in a way that is most suitable. As importantly, personas tell web teams and contributors what not to develop. They are a constant reminder – as an A4 print out on the pin board by the desk, as a poster on the wall, as a cardboard cut out in the corner of the office – reminding developers about what’s important to users.
However, to ensure that the personas reflect ‘real’ users, they need to be based on a detailed understanding of users, their goals and their priorities: user research is required to gain real insight and understanding into user needs and motivations.
Personas are usually developed at the start of a web development, or redevelopment process. They are particularly valuable for web sites that have accumulated large amounts of content, much of which is seldom used, but which is present because content producers have published material they have – rather than what users want – and which actually gets in the way of users achieving their goals.
The right research
The right research will depend on the number of user types, the existing level of understanding of users, the ease of accessing respondents, the ‘internal credibility’ of the research required, and the budget available. With our extensive user research experience, we can recommend an appropriate research methodology to ensure the research delivers useful outputs and provides value for money.
Action Oriented Process
A key issue is to get organisational acceptance to the final personas. We use a number of approaches to gain this but they all include ensuring key personnel gain a first hand understanding of users either by direct observation in research sessions or with video evidence shown at workshops.
Having viewed the user evidence, a Web Usability consultant facilitates a discussion to identify the key issues. This discussion means that the client takes ownership of the research results, and develops a collective view of the issues that enables the identification of actionable results.
Web Usability consultants bring to these discussions many years experience of strategic consulting in the private and public sectors. As the situation demands, we draw on this experience to ensure the discussions are guided by this knowledge.
We plan the research in consultation with the client so the client gets the ‘right’ solution – not an ‘off the shelf’ one. We agree with the client’s project manager the key aims of the research, research methodologies, respondent profiles, research locations, timescales, etc. We prepare a discussion guide or questionnaires for the research for approval by the client’s project manager in advance of the research.
When required, we undertake our own respondent recruitment – we do not use third parties. We believe this allows us to recruit more accurately to our client’s specification, provide greater flexibility, and treat respondents in a decent and ethical way.
Conducting the Research
How the research is conducted depends on the methodologies used, but typically includes:
- Preparing discussion guides or questionnaires
- Scheduling the research
- Undertaking the research
- Analysing the outputs
- Persona Development
Web Usability develops the personas for the target user groups based on the user research and details elements such as:
- Representative picture
- Description of target user type
- ‘Personal’ details (e.g. sex, age, home location, marital status, children, home ownership, etc)
- Occupation details
- Personal background
- Their motivations for using the site – in their own words
- The goals they want to achieve on the site
- The words they would use to describe these goals
Involving key client personnel in the user research process enables them to develop significant insight into the research used for the persona development, and involves them at important decision making points in the process. This ensures their commitment and buy-in to the resulting personas, and equips them to act as ‘champions’ for the personas more broadly in the organisation.