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A persona is a written representation of your website’s intended users. Each persona:
- Represents a major user group for your website
- Expresses and focuses on the major needs and expectations of the most important user groups
- Gives a clear picture of the user’s expectations and how they’re likely to use the site
- Aids in uncovering universal features and functionality
- Describes real people with backgrounds, goals, and values
- Is based on qualitative and some quantitative user information
- Is only as good as the research behind it
You may develop one or more personas for a project. Personas do not represent all audiences or address all needs of the website. They merely focus on the major needs of the most important user groups.
Personas development belongs at the beginning of the project, as personas can inform site functionality, help uncover gaps, or highlight new opportunities.
Personas offer a quick and inexpensive way to test and prioritize features throughout the development process. They can help:
- Stakeholders and leaders evaluate new site feature ideas
- Information architects develop informed wireframes, interface behaviors, and labeling
- Designers create the overall look and feel of the website
- System engineers/developers decide which approaches to take based on user behaviors
- Copy writers ensure site content is written to the appropriate audiences
Personas add a layer of real-world application to decisions surrounding site components, including:
- Information architecture
By evaluating the site against your personas, you can avoid the trap of building what users ask for rather than what they will actually use.
There are many methods to create personas. However, to ensure your personas are accurate representations of your users and have the support of your stakeholders throughout the process, you should:
- Conduct user research
Answer the following questions: Who are your users and why are they using the system? What behaviors, assumptions, and expectations color their view of the system?
- Condense the research
Look for themes/characteristics that are specific, relevant, and universal to the system and its users.
Organize elements into persona groups that represent your target users. Name or classify each group.
Combine and prioritize the rough personas. Separate them into primary, secondary, and, if necessary, complementary categories. You should have roughly 3-5 personas and their identified characteristics.
- Make them real
Develop the appropriate descriptions of each personas background, motivations, and expectations. Do not include a lot of personal information. Be relevant and serious; humor is not appropriate.
A typical persona includes:
- Made up names
- Casual pictures representing that user group
- Job titles and major responsibilities
- Demographics such as: age, education, ethnicity, and family status
You should also include:
- The goals and tasks they are trying to complete using the site
- Their environment: physical, social, technological
- A quote that sums up what matters most to the persona as it relates to your site
Organize persona information in an easy to read, logical format. Depending on the amount of user research you were able to conduct and the nature of your organization, personas may be laid out in a number of ways, including:
Some personas are incredibly detailed, whereas others simply offer a brief sketch of each type of user. Here is an example of a small portion of a larger persona developed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Economic Research Service (ERS).
USDA Senior Manager Gatekeepers
Program Staff Director, USDA
Matthew is 51-year-old married father of three children and one grandchild. He has a Ph.D. in Agricultural Economics who spends his work time requesting and reviewing research reports, preparing memos and briefs for agency heads, and supervising staff efforts in food safety and inspection. He is focused, goal-oriented within a strong leadership role. One of his concerns is maintaining quality across all output of programs. He is comfortable using a computer and refers to himself as an intermediate Internet user. He is connected via a T1 connection at work and dial-up at home. He uses email extensively and uses the web about 1.5 hours during his work day. He is most likely heard saying: “Can you get me that staff analysis by Tuesday?”
Persona developed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Economic Research Service (ERS).
- Communicating Design: Developing Web Site Documentation for Design and Planning,
by Dan Brown, 2007
- GetElastic - http://www.getelastic.com/personas-101-what-are-they-and-why-should-i-care/
- Information Architecture: Blueprints for the Web, by Christina Wodtke and Austin Govella, 2009
- StepTwo Designs - http://www.steptwo.com.au/papers/kmc_personas/index.html
- Usability.gov - http://www.usability.gov/methods/analyze_current/personas.html
- UX Magazine - http://uxmag.com/articles/personas-the-foundation-of-a-great-user-experience & http://uxmag.com/articles/using-proto-personas-for-executive-alignment