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Why we use personas in website design reviews

hand mirror from flickr

Personas are part of our usability practice, and, although they’re gaining increasing acceptance in website and software design, not everyone understands them or recognizes their value.

Described by Alan Cooper in his book The Inmates are Running the Asylum, personas are sketches of individual people used in the design process. They are related to target markets and have associated demographic information, but instead of demographic descriptions of groups of people, they are narrative depictions of an individual rather than a group or population. Their particulars come from user research, such as interviews with site visitors or potential customers.

The importance of a persona is that it can be used as a filter or lens through which to view and judge the website’s success. They keep the marketing and development team honest and accountable, ensuring that we focus our efforts on the right audience – a potential customer or client rather than the stakeholders at the planning meeting.

Mirror personas get in the way
Personas are used to combat the “mirror persona” (look in the mirror and you’ll find yours). Very naturally, people unconsciously use the mirror persona when they do design and development, and of course that mirror persona is diverse and varied. Folks sitting around the same table may argue based on differing ideas of the target audience and differing individual preferences (everyone’s got a different mirror).

When design discussions get stuck in a “I say”-”you say” conflict, the “winner” might be the best debater, or perhaps the HIPPO (highest paid person’s opinion) rules. That may or may not be the right answer. The user may lose, and the site’s performance could suffer.

The antidote – user driven design
Personas, user research, and quantitative data provide a better basis for decision making.

Personas are one of many tools that can help ensure that a website remains focused on the end users, rather than the needs or beliefs of those involved in the design. Rather than asking “how would I use this site”, a persona provides a point of focus which forces everyone involved in the site to ask: “how would this person use the website”. Ideally, personas are created based upon interviews with target users, though less detailed efforts can still positively influence the development process.

Persona resources

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About Dunrie Greiling

Dunrie Greiling is the former Chief Operating Officer at Pure Visibility, but her favorite job title at PV was Director of Happiness. She co-authored the book Internet Marketing Start to Finish, published by Pearson Education, Que Publishing. At her personal blog, Scientific Ink, she writes about things like yoga, knitting, and travel. She can be found on Google+, LinkedIn, and microblogs on Twitter as @dunrie.

3 Responses to "Why we use personas in website design reviews"

  • Bookmarks about Personas
    November 2, 2008 - 8:30 am Reply

    [...] – bookmarked by 5 members originally found by sasanders on 2008-10-23 Why we use personas in website design reviews /2008/05/why-we-use-personas-in-website-design-reviews/ – bookmarked [...]

  • Web content, conversions and personas
    February 16, 2009 - 1:58 am Reply

    [...] Personas: Since the 1960’s account planners would create audience profiles as part of the creative brief that we (as copywriters) would write the advertising to match. Personas are very similar – just  a new way to say it. Personas allow you to put a name, face, and detailed description to one audience that may very well want to purchase your product. You can have multiple personas per web site, and you can design content to reach them all. For some guides on writing Personas visit Dave Chaffey’s page, or you can visit this Pure Visibility post on personas. [...]

  • kabita
    September 12, 2010 - 12:23 pm Reply

    Really good post here.

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