Segmenting Your Audiences
by Beth A. Martin
A key ingredient to developing a usable Web site is to define your audiences and their goals. The purpose is to get a deep understanding of who you are designing for and their primary content or service needs. There are a number of methods for doing this; one popular approach is using personas.
Define Your Audiences by Their Goals
By segmenting the target Web audiences according to their main goals and focusing on the tasks performed by these audiences, Federal agencies can improve the usability of their sites. For example, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) developed a Blueprint for HUD's Home Page [PDF, 69kb], which identifies user tasks by audience. You can create your own blueprint, by listing your audiences and the tasks they would like to accomplish in a matrix. Then determine how frequently each audience would complete those tasks (often, sometimes, never). Using the matrix, your development team can see at a glance what areas are of common or diverse interest for each audience.
Designing an interface that meets the needs of one individual, albeit a fictional but believable one, seems to help designers meet the goals of multiple users. Personas keep the design team focused on characteristics of the same types of users. For example, Jared Spool’s research found that design teams who used personas were more objective; analysts took on the role of a persona to review a site. Interestingly, analysts uncovered different issues on the same site based on the different personas. You can use the blueprint described above to formulate your own site’s personas; from three to five personas per site is adequate. These are called primary personas. (Your site may incidentally acknowledge, but not necessarily be designed for, secondary personas.) Each primary persona should be written in a narrative format, approximately one page long. Content can include:
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) created three personas for the redesign of its HHS intranet Web site.
The Economic Research Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture, also developed personas for its core audiences.
Using personas seems to be helpful for designers, and is used by many, but there is little to no research yet to support that persona-based websites are better. If you want your design team, however, to do a better job of understanding your target audiences, segment the target audiences by goals and tasks. Then, create three to five primary personas to focus your designers on developing interfaces that serve the particular audiences rather than "the world."
Cooper, A. (1999), The Inmates are Running the Asylum: Why High-Tech Products Drive Us Crazy and How to Restore the Sanity, Indianapolis: Sams.
Goodwin, K. (2001), Perfecting your personas, Cooper Newsletter, July/August 2001.
Head, A. J. (2003), Personas: Setting the stage for building usable information sites, Information Today/Online, Vol. 27 No. 4 – July/August 2003.
Spool, J. (2004), Three important benefits of personas, User Interface Engineering Newsletter.