people looking at website

Five Steps to UX-Proof Your Website: Personas

Think about a product or service that has made an impression in your life. Maybe it’s an app or web service, or maybe it’s something like a kitchen tool. It’s something you reach for every day, and not just out of necessity. You don’t just use it passively, you genuinely enjoy the experience.

This product is the result of a user-centered design process involving personas. Your reaction and enjoyment didn’t just “happen.” Someone designed a product that fits exactly what you need, doesn’t frustrate you, and compliments your lifestyle. This started when a designer mapped out your wants, motivations, and personality. They researched what problems you needed solved, and they customized a solution to fit your persona. This product wasn’t designed for everyone, it was made specifically for you. Or rather, a group of you’s.

Personas are how you design delightful experiences that feel hand-crafted specifically for their users. (Because… they sort of are.) The discovery process narrows down a target audience and paints a research-based picture of how that group moves through the world. In the case of websites, personas help you understand the technological needs and context of your users, in addition to their demographic and psychographic characteristics.

Let’s dig into the details of how you develop accurate, comprehensive personas, and follow them to your website launch… and beyond.

Meet the Users

Personas are detailed descriptions of your target audience based on market research. They inform the website design process from concept to creation, and ultimately give your team an audience to empathize with. As we mentioned in part one of our crash course, UX is about meeting people where they’re at with an experience that works on their screen and makes sense through their eyes. Personas are the lens that show you the worldview you’re designing for.

Personas help contextualize your website functionality by placing it on a real-world stage. They are a powerful, low-cost way to express the goals, values, and needs of your primary user group. These user snapshots also serve a dual purpose as a motivator for your team. Comprehensive personas go beyond demographic information and bring to life someone to empathize with and fight for.

If you’re a dog person, your persona is very well a cat person.

You aren’t your user, so it’s important to base your persona on market research to avoid your own biases and preferences. Research-based personas are more accurate, and more likely to stand the test of time. Send out surveys to gather demographic information, look for market research data in your industry, unearth existing data within your organization and conduct user interviews. The more you can interact with and learn about your audience, the more detailed your narration of them will be.

If you feel like a journalist writing an in-depth interview story for the New Yorker, you’re basically on the right track.

DIY Persona-ing

Good personas aren’t just lists of demographic information–they’re biographies.

Once you’ve gathered your data, paint a picture of a person living their daily life, before you start thinking of them in the context of your website. This method takes you beyond knowing someone’s name and age, and helps you understand the characteristics that will come into play when they are using your product.

Here’s a step-by-step process you can follow to turn your market data into personas:

  • Look for behavior patterns and trends of characteristics in your data. Group similar responses together and define 3-5 major user groups.
  • Classify each group based on their primary goals related to your site.
  • Outline realistic user profiles. Include the following, at a minimum:
    • Demographic: Name, Age, gender, education, location occupation, hobbies, photo
    • Psychographic: Goals, tasks, motivation, barriers
    • Webographics: Web experience, usage location (home or work), usage platform (desktop, tablet, mobile), favorite websites/apps
  •  Give each persona a quote that sums up their mission on your website (for example, “I need to book a birthday party for my pet sloth.” )
  • Fill in the story using scenarios. Think about the calls to action that would be attractive to your users, or whether they are more search-oriented or browser-oriented. Use this to help define a new title for the user, based on their description related to your site. For example, Frazzled Francesca might be coming to your site when she’s confused and needs answers. Penny-pincher Paul might be hard to convert to a sale unless you’re tactical in showing the value of your service.

Your resulting personas should be thorough, detailed, and above all relatable. Your team should have a memorable idea of the person they are designing for, which will ultimately lead to a user-focused product.

Your persona is your design team’s new favorite boy band poster.

Personas don’t disappear after the discovery phase of the website. Use them as a beacon to guide your team through design, development, and testing. Use them as a motivator; as a designer, I love knowing I’m creating experiences that make people smile, or make someone’s life better in some way. Designing and developing well is laborious, but personas give your team the empathy they need to execute the details, and the satisfaction of knowing the end user is satisfied.

Bring your personas to every meeting, even after your website launches. Fight for them whenever they need defending. When suggestions or comments are made about changes to the website that would derail your audience, pull out your persona. Your business wants your audience to convert, so don’t be afraid to remind them what the data says your users are attracted to.

Your website is only as good as your users perceive it to be. After you launch, it’s important to continually test with your audience, and sharpen the personas that you base your work around. Never stop putting your end user at the forefront of your website design decisions.

Summary

The entire point of UX is finding out how to design effectively for your customer base to ultimately fulfill your business goals. In order to do so, you need to have a clear picture of who your users are and what they expect from your website. Find out what their personal mission is, and make your website a tool for their success. Understanding someone’s motivations and needs is the best way to deliver an experience that works for them.

Most importantly, personas give your team someone to fight for. Use personas to map the conversation between your website and your user, giving the user the clearest and most direct route to success.

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