UX Personas: Putting a face to your users

Posted: 11 February 2014
Adgistics’ Head of Design shares his thoughts on key areas of focus when designing user-friendly Brand Asset Management software solutions. This is the first instalment of Pushing the pixels… forward blog series.

Brands often spend days, weeks, months and in some cases, years developing their latest software only to discover that the user uptake is not what was predicted.
The software looks great, its highly functional, fast and performs all the required tasks but in the end you are scratching your head wondering why the engagement is lower than expected?

The problems often start at the very beginning of the process. Budgets, time and functionality all came together and off you went, ploughing head first into the build.
It is surprising how often we come across this problem and this is where User Experience can really impact the success rate, starting with Personas.

What are personas?

ux-persona-1Personas are fictional representations of your software’s users and can come in many varying forms. They can be simple personas, with a name, photo, age, gender and location or they can be more complex personas and include financial status, personal and professional ambitions, hobbies and even pets’ names, but what they all have in common is the task of identifying who your users are.

The ideal personas are created by gathering real data about what users are currently doing with the software and what they are aiming to do, and then we take that information and create individualised personas. But if you do not have live data on hand, a fictional persona based on what you already know about your user groups can also be an invaluable tool. Once you start to think about it, you’ll be surprised how much you already do this instinctively. You know the groups of people that are meant to be using the solution because you know the kind of things they are using it for, and because you know your client base, it need not be time consuming or resource intensive.

Having told you how easy it is to create personas, there is one word of caution. Your real life users are not simply a set of stereotypes so be careful not to over simplify. However you create and use your personas and whether you are developing intranets or any other enterprise solution, you must never forget that your users are your actual customers.

Why use personas?

Whenever you are working with front-end development, personas should be involved. At Adgistics, to help us create our Brand Asset Management solutions we have identified seven types of users, all of whom have different aims and objectives when using our Brand Centre® solutions. This allows us to create situations on behalf of our identified persons. I’m sure you have all been in a meeting discussing where a certain button should be placed, the developer wants to put it one place because it is quicker, the designer wants it someplace else for aesthetic reasons but the marketing team wants it in yet another location to encourage conversion rates. These conflicts can be hard to resolve but, with a persona on hand you can argue the case for the user, where would they want the button to be? It’s all about empathy! By allowing yourself to wear the shoes of your personas, you are empowered to make a better informed UX decision.

ux-persona-2Having a well-made persona in mind whilst creating software solutions, gives designers more confidence that what their creation will ‘fit’ the target audience. It’s often difficult to put yourself in your users shoes but by keeping personas in mind, you can easily ensure that what you have created is suitable and appropriate. Having that confidence makes the design process smoother, less stressful and saves time and resources.

The result from taking time to consider user needs will be a more enjoyable solution that meets user requirements. wouldn't it be great if your users came back to you and said, ‘I feel like this was created just for me, it does exactly what I want it to do!’ And it’s worthwhile financially, a richer user experience makes for a greater uptake.

When to use personas?

Once you’ve created your shiny new personas, you can make use of them in almost every stage of the development process. By knowing your users you will be able to focus on what they want to achieve within the system. Some areas that benefit directly from personas are;

  • Ability to identify the need for new features and/or functionality
  • Discover which users views will be required
  • Aid design decisions
  • Generate site content that ensures relevancy
  • Plan task driven solutions
  • Support marketing team projects
  • Help communicate proposed solutions to senior staff
  • Develop scenarios.

Conclusion

In the end, personas are not the ‘be all and end all’, they are a part of the process and should always be used in conjunction with other UX tools, many of which will be covered in later posts. Understanding your user base is one of the fundamental steps when developing software and is instrumental to the success of your solution. With the ever-increasing demand for highly engaging software to be delivered in a timely fashion, personas and other UX techniques can, and will, save money, generate higher user satisfaction and more importantly, increase your adoption rate.