One of the most important things you can do to help make your site more usableis to get to know your users. This can be done in various ways. Conducting usability tests (gorilla or more in-depth tests), soliciting user feedback, interviewing and surveying are all good ways of doing this, and there are many more. Once you get started, you will have a pretty good basis of information on your users to help you design and advocate for them.
You can further increase the usefulness of this information, as well as addto it, by creating personas for your users.
A persona is a user profile that you can use to help make design decisions,as well as use to aid you in other ways. These profiles are created from your knowledge of your users, usually knowledge gained from user testing and research. Think of it as having a “virtual” user to bounce ideas off and help you keep the goals of the user in mind on a day-to-day basis. They are another powerful and valuable tool you can add to your toolbox.
What I’ll do here is show you a quick and easy method to helpyou create your personas, as well as the basics of how they can be used. This is by no means going to be the only way this can be done, nor is it the only way personas can be used. There is much more to the world of personas than I’ll be discussing here.
The more you put into your personas (and any other usability strategy) the more you’llget out of them – I just hope to get you started. To that end I’ll give you some links to resources that will explain in much more detail how you can use, create and learn from personas when we’re done.
The first and most important thing you’ll need to do is gather informationabout your users. Depending on your resources and budget this can be done in various ways and to varying levels of detail. Let’s concentrate on a few simple ways that will specifically help you create personas.
One of the best ways you can get good information for your personas is byinterviewing your users one on one. If you are planning on doing some usability testing, add ten minutes or so to users’ sessions and have someone sit down and ask them some questions. If you can’t get in direct contact with them, provide an survey (by email for example) for them to fill out and send to you.
It’s fairly important to get a decent sized sample of user data. Whatyou’ll need to look for when building your personas is patterns or similarities between users. You’ll want to avoid keying in on one particular person for a persona.
Things you’ll want to find out about:
You don’t need to limit it to that, and this list should vary dependingon the type of site you are building, your audiences and the business you are in. For example, I work for a children’s hospital, so when interviewing parents we asked some generic questions about their kids and their relationship with the hospital. All of that was very important when building our personas.
In addition to the interview data, you can gather some demographic type datafrom your server logs (technical), and by talking to stakeholders. A good group to speak with, as they will most likely have some of this, is your marketing department.
There are other ways to get information about your users that would be helpfulin persona creation. Focus groups, emotional response testing, site feedback forms and surveys can all help you out.
Once you have gathered your data, and hopefully you will have enough to beginto see some patterns emerge, you’ll need to sort that data and summarize it for review. One thing you’ll want to keep in mind is to separate the patterns so that things that apply to the majority of users are not lumped in with patterns specific to single users or very few users. This way you’ll be able to identify a common or primary user base (and persona) as well as a secondary persona. More on that shortly.
Now that you have gathered and grouped your data it’s time to createa few personas. There are many ways you can do this, all of them good. What I have personally found easiest is to create the personas myself, and not involve a group. This may not work well for you, however. Feel free to involve others if you need to.
I start with my raw data, and I take the groupings I’ve come up withand try to form that data into the traits of a person. I do this until my data is exhausted, or as close as I can get to that. This process will vary depending on the amount of data you have as well as the variety. Hopefully you will have a pretty decent understanding of your audiences and users through the process of gathering the data that will allow you to make some assumptions. Another way you can help yourself is try to find a few “real” people in your pool of data and model the personas after them. Do change the names to protect the innocent.
Once you have some personas mapped out with user data you can identify yourprimary and secondary user groups. Pretty much all that means is you’ll want to take the two personas that best describe who you think your largest user group and a secondary user group that is very different from the first but still very important.
At this point you should have a persona to represent the most common usergroup, a secondary persona to represent another vastly different group as well as a few other personas to fill in the rest of your user groups. You don’t want too many, so if you have quite a few, or any that overlap, either combine them or cut them.
If you like you can also get creative and create a back-story or add somepersonality to your personas. This can not only be fun, but also help you later on when working on real world problems.
So now that you have personas, what do you do? Well, that is up to you andthe needs of you and your team members. I use my personas for many things. Here’s a list to get you started thinking about how you (and others you work with) can use your personas:
There is a certain amount of role playing and make-believe involved when puttingyour personas into practice. However silly it may seem, just having the personas around will help you not only think more user- and customer- centric, but help communicate the wants and needs of your users to anyone who might not understand how those needs and wants can help everyone involved.
There is a whole lot more to personas than what I’ve talked about here.I’ve found them to be a very helpful and very interesting design tool, but that is only the beginning. If you want to learn more about personas here are some great resources. Some of these were instrumental in helping me get my first personas created.
target="_blank">The Inmates Are Running the Asylum. Alan Cooper.My first ever run-in with personas.
target="_blank">Information Architecture: Blueprints For The Web.Christina Wodtke. A great resource, with a lot of good information about personas, and many other things as well.
target="_blank">Cooper: Newsletters on Personas.
target="_blank">Bringing Your Personas to Life in Real Life.Elan Freydenson.
target="_blank">Taking the "You" out of User: My Experience Using Personas.
target="_blank">Personas: Matching a Design to the Users' GoalsChristine Perfetti.