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Usability Best Practices: Persona Development

Posted @ 4:40 pm by Yusuf Asgerally | Category: User Experience | 0 Comments

I briefly mentioned the word Personas in my earlier post on Card Sorting and the fact that it played an important role in User Centered Design. In this post I’m going to try and cover the why and how part of Persona development.

“Personas are fictitious characters that are created to represent the different user types within a targeted demographic that might use a site or product” - Wikipedia

Let’s analyze this statement a little further, particularly this part of it: “-represent the different user types within a targeted demographic that might use a site or product-

Every site or software product has a targeted audience; if you are able to effectively talk to your audience, your service will be successful. In order to communicate with your users effectively, you need to know who your users are: what interests them, and why they would be interested in what you have to offer.

This is where personas come in and Wikipedia’s definition rings true.

Now that we know what personas are and how they are helpful to the successful development of a solution lets talk about how you go about creating a set of personas.

The “fictitious” part in the above description referrers to the character being fictitious and not a real person, but the characteristics of that persona should be based on real data that you gather by interviewing real users of the service or similar services. The more users you interview the greater the accuracy of your character.

Your interview should investigate the age, occupation, social background, computer and internet familiarity, education and work background amongst other daily tasks that they would typically perform.

From this list, social background is very interesting. This should delve into what they do as hobbies, what television shows they watch, what magazines they read, what they do typically do when they get online and what kind of sites they visit.

All of this data can be used to construct a character or number of characters that represent your user base. It’s helpful to give them fictitious but accurate imagery (e.g.: a sketch of what that user might look like, what types of clothes they would wear), and a line or two of how they would describe themselves.

This gives us tremendous insight on what motivates our users and how to communicate with them. What kind of language the site should use to convey key messages efficiently. E.g.: if your typical user is a frequent reader of “The New York Times”, “Forbes” and “The Wall Street Journal,” the copy text you use on your site and the tone of conversation should reflect the type of language they are used to.

Another important aspect of personas is that it helps guide feature and functionality discussions based on who your users are by zeroing in on their needs and requirements. This prevents the development of an application with very complex grid functionality and 10pt fonts, even though it might be very cool to have, if your target audience belongs to an older age group and doesn’t have much familiarity with the Internet or software applications.

Once again, these are just a few advantages that personas give to the development of a successful website/Application, but I hope it has sparked your interest in the subject area and given you a base from which to learn more about Persona development and the User Centric Development process as a whole.

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