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Personas …Non Grata?

Posted by Ludo on November 22, 2011

Personas … Non Grata?

If you are interested in Visual Web Design, you will like this post.

One of the key to success in Web Design is to clearly define and present the “Targets” Users of a website; creating Personas is a great tool to achieve that purpose.

  • Definition
  • Commented Example
  • Benefits of creating personas
  • Roadblocks to introducing personas
  • Personas or avatars?
  • Conclusion
  • More on the Personas
  • Definition

Personas are archetypal users of an intranet or website that represent the needs of larger groups of users, in terms of their goals and personal characteristics. They act as ‘stand-ins’ for real users and help guide decisions about functionality and design.

Personas identify the user motivations, expectations and goals responsible for driving online behaviour, and bring users to life by giving those names, personalities and often a photo.

In other words, it is an efficient tool for web designers and web users to visually identify the target users of a Web site, also called the audience.

  • Example commented

Example of a "Persona"

Below is a sample persona for an intranet project. This persona describes Bob, a 52-year-old mechanic that works for a road service company. From Bob’s persona you can start to get a feel for his goals when using the new intranet. He wants to avoid feeling stupid, would like to retain his status as a mentor to his younger colleagues, whilst seeing the potential of the intranet to make him more informed when interacting with customers.

  • Benefits of creating personas

Personas enable intranet and website teams to stand in their users’ shoes. They focus the design effort on supporting user goals, rather than being driven by the ideas of team members or senior executives.

Introducing personas into your intranet or website project will bring a number of benefits:

  • Users’ goals and needs become a common point of focus for the team
  • The team can concentrate on designing for a manageable set of personas knowing that they represent the needs of many users
  • they are relatively quick to develop and replace the need to canvass the whole user community and spend months gathering user requirements
  • They help avoid the trap of building what users ask for rather than what they will actually use.
  • design efforts can be prioritized based on the personas
  • disagreements over design decisions can be sorted out by referring back to the personas
  • Designs can be constantly evaluated against the personas, reducing the frequency of large and expensive usability tests.
  • Roadblocks to introducing personas

Personas are not stand-alone: Although personas have many benefits, they alone will not ensure the success of your intranet or website. The goals of the business must also be considered, because if the website or intranet does not meet business needs, then the solution is not a viable one. Here are some other roadblocks:

  • Personas are no different from market segments
  • Personas have no place in the serious world of IT
  • A small set of personas can not represent the whole user population
  • Personas or avatars?

Part of an assignment on Visual Web Design, I proposed a website built on the analogy between building a Home and living your life, as a way to help people cope with their everyday life struggles. Having read on the personas, I proposed to define 3 of them, Sonia, Ronan and Jun with “real people“ pictures, in order for users to identify themselves and to see the website as more realistic.

The idea was to use to let the personas work as guides and walk users through the website but also to use them to define profiles that Users could review when they create their own profiles, with a real picture or with an Avatar.

Here are the comments received by the “teacher” :

“Using real live photos of people for role models can be tricky…. People generally identify with those who resemble themselves. So keeping this in mind, it is difficult to find photos representing each and every one, for a truly inclusive representation.”

I launch the debate; please post your comments!

  • Conclusion

Understanding the needs of users is one of the most critical success factors for any intranet or website project. Personas allow you to identify and communicate user needs efficiently and effectively.

By developing ‘stand in’ users, based on real user data, the design team can concentrate on designing for these archetypal users with the confidence that the needs of the broader user base will be met.

Personas are a useful tool to use throughout the project, from deciding upon the functionality to include in a release to evaluating the end product.

More on the Personas: How to create personas in 10 steps.

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FREE: Download the full article on Personas


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