Understand your Site's Audience

John Newton's picture
John Newton

We've been using user personas or user profiles for many years.

They are an incredibly useful tool for helping us and our clients think hard about who are users are and what they need. They form the basis of user stories and user journeys and so act as the foundation of what will ultimately become the specification. As such, I have been wary of changing a tried and trusted approach. However, recently we've begun to alter the format we use for the user profiles. We've been following a number of the ideas outlined in Lean UX by Jeff Gothelf and Josh Seiden. In particular, we're currently working with the concept of proto personas.

These cut down some of the detail we'd previously modelled in our old persona approach.

This means we don't spend so much time on background detail for the persona. Instead we quickly sketch out a quadrant - name, behaviour (this is where we would formerly spend a lot of time with the client), pain points and needs, and potential solutions. To some extent this dovetails with the buzz around Empathy Maps which I've been interested in recently. But more to the point, this approach has really helped us move quickly through the persona building process, enabling us and our clients stay really focused on what we're trying to achieve.

Of course, it shouldn't be forgotten that while the persona is an incredibly powerful tool, it's based on a collective set of assumptions and should always be tested against interviews with real users.  If the project is big enough this should never be skipped. But even for smaller projects where budgets are much tighter, it is well worth the effort of finding even just a few users to test and refine your ideas.