Persona’s – Not just about the User Research

personas ux

There is more to Personas than good User Research

Increasingly when we engage and work with organisations I see personas playing some sort of role in the design and management of the website. For those unfamiliar with the term we define a persona as “Archetypal users that represent the needs of larger groups of users, in terms of their goals and personal characteristics”. They build on audience segmentation by making visually personifying the data so that it is easier to access and relate to.

That there use is increasing is a very good thing because when properly used I think they add real value. For example we were running some usability testing for a retail client recently and when we asked for user profiles to carry out the recruitment they handed over personas. That is reasonably unusual but what I observed in the viewing room during the testing was even more unusual. Every single person in the client team knew the personas intimately and could tell which persona name a participant belonged to just by observing their behaviour. They were properly embedded in the organisation and used very widely.

The use of Good User Research

Unfortunately, I don’t think the user experience research sector has showered itself in glory when it comes to personas. Over the course of the past 10 to 12 years I have been involved in bids and projects to deliver personas and seen a variety of bad behaviour including:

  • Agencies allowing clients to define too many personas
  • Agencies not actually carrying out any user research to develop the personas and seemingly pulling them out of thin air
  • Clients not taking persona development seriously and allocating a ridiculously small budget to their development and expecting the world
  • Deliverables that are so complicated and visually unappealing that the client can’t engage with them in any way
  • Poor user research practices so that the data underpinning the research was unreliable

But even when the user research is excellent, the deliverables crisp and clear and the quantities perfect, personas can still fail.

Beyond user research – embedding personas in your business

Having personas is one thing, engaging with them something completely different. Regardless of whether personas are delivered as full sized poster, mannequins, video, animations or using actors it is not just about the quality of user research and method of delivery. The key is the level of engagement throughout the organisation that has commissioned them. Adopting personas requires the same level of commitment as an organisational change programme.

Like most change programmes adopting personas begins with a champion who believes so strongly in them that they are prepared to change the way the organisation works. This can be the hardest part particularly in an organisation where no one alone owns the customer. However if they are successful in driving change the result is tangible – even the language your people use will be different.

I have seen stand up arguments in digital marketing sessions where team members are defending the rights of “Jenny” a key persona in the business, because they feel she is being overlooked in the strategies of design developments being discussed. This is when you know that personas are becoming embedded in your organisation and also when you start to gain the maximum benefit.

To talk about how personas can be embedded in your business and really drive your website performance get in contact today.

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