Jared Spool on personas

In my ongoing usability research, I keep stumbling across the concept of ‘personas’ and how useful they are in creating user-friendly websites. One of the best articles I’ve found so far is by Jared Spool, a well-respected UX guru.

He points out three ways in which personas help designers.

1. Design for the users, not yourself In his research, Spool found that groups using personas worked as follows:

Instead of asking, “How would I use this system?” they asked, “How would Mary use the system?” They found their persona’s (Mary) initial reference point instead of their own, making judgments about the design from the persona’s point of view.

You are not the user. Rich, detailed personas based on customer research help keep designers focused on the needs, perspectives, and behaviors of their users.

2. See your users as real people, with real stories. By fleshing out users – giving them names, families, jobs, hobbies, personalities – designers get engaged in the ‘lives’ of the personas. Says Spool:

The teams we researched did the same thing. They got together and told stories about how their personas would tackle some problem. In the details of these stories, team members would start to get a real sense of who these users were and the problems they might encounter.

Humans are hard-wired to remember stories better than facts or statistics. By creating stories about users, designers are more likely to keep users in mind as they design and are more likely to be emotionally invested in “Mary’s” success.

3. Put yourself in the user’s place through role-playing. When you work with well-developed personas, members of the design team can take on the role of “Mary” or “George” and thereby spot many usability and UX issues before testing the product with actual users (or before even building it!). Again, Mr. Spool:

When we adopt a role, we can start to view the world around us from that person’s perspective. Using the persona as the target role, we can identify how that person will interact with the design and the issues that will arise. We start to see things we can’t see any other way.

In order for this to work, the personas have to be complex an engaging, a list of demographic stats won’t do the trick. They also need to be representative of real users in the target market. Customer research will provide much of the inspiration and personas can be validated and updated by subsequent research and user tests (Is Mary like “Mary”?).

By using personas, designers are more likely to create products that work well for their users. Plus, developing and working with personas sounds like great fun! (I’d probably go with more imaginative names, though – Aloysius, Ebeneezer, Bronte?)

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