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Usability best practice, Part 4 – Using personas

Alex Christie

30 June 2010

Carrying on the series ‘Usability best practice’ I am focusing on the use of personas explaining what they are, why they are useful and how to implement them.

What is a persona?
Personas, invented by usability pioneer Alan Cooper, in 1998, are widely used by designers, developers and usability experts to help them keep focus on users’ goals and needs. They represent a fictional person who represents a major user group specific to your website.

They are a continuation of customer profiles which split users/customers into general groups, breaking these ‘groups’ down to individuals giving them a name, face and personality.

Why develop a persona?
Personas help the project team keep focused on a specific user’s needs and goals. If personas are not used then the target ‘user’ will become unfocused and confused; As a project develops and the design team gets more embroiled in it the end user can get ‘lost’ and become more of a representation of the project team and not the desired end user.

Some other benefits include:

  • Users’ goals become the main focus for the team
  • Help the project team solve disagreements by referring back to the personas
  • A better understanding of customers needs
  • Speeds up project time
  • Improved end design by constant evaluation of the design against the persona

How to develop a persona?
The ultimate reasons for creating user personas are to discover what a user wants to achieve (their goals) and what the project wants to discover (objectives).

The methods do develop personas:

Firstly, analyse what has been learnt from the user research e.g.

  • Usability testing
  • Focus groups & interviews
  • Online surveys

What you want to know about the user:

  • Education
  • Age
  • Gender
  • Computer literacy and frequency of use
  • Work experience

How to create a persona:

  • Maximum of 2 to 3 personas to represent each user group
  • Create descriptions for each persona
  • Keep focus by prioritising primary (goals of majority of actual end users) and secondary personas (mostly same as primary but with a few additional goals)
  • Always refer to the persona by his/her name

Example persona:

personaExample In this example a persona of a business professor
is created for a college intranet project.

Keeping the user at the centre of any design is imperative and one of the best ways to do this is to use personas. Using usability techniques are crucial and must be introduced at the start of any project; applying a persona to a site already designed and built is too late and will not produce the optimum results.

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