When most people hear the term personas they think of marketing rather than design, but persona research can and should be an integral part of any web design project.
While it’s true that persona research comes from more of the advertising side of the marketing world, personas have taken on a new role within the web design process as the focus on user-centric design has increased over the years.
In this article, we’ll explore what personas mean for web design and why you should use them for your next project. Here are the areas we’ll tackle:
What are personas?
Personas are fundamental to the UX research process as a method for identifying your audience and understanding their goals.
By gaining a better understanding of user demographics, the devices/technology they’re using, and their behaviors, intended use cases, pain points, and goals, you can build a better website—or update an existing one—that provides a more intuitive and engaging user experience.
Persona research typically revolves around information gathered from user self-assessments, surveys, or interviews, all with a mixture of multiple-choice and open-ended questions that provide a window into who your users are.
For persona research to be effective, all user types should be represented and the more respondents for each user type, the more accurate your findings will be.
Once you’ve compiled enough data to build out your research, you’ll need to find the meaning of the data by analyzing it across the different user types that represent your website audience.
Why should you use personas?
If you don’t understand who your users are and what they’re trying to do on your website, you may not be serving them as best you can. Web design has become increasingly user-centric and if you’re not making user experience a priority, you may be putting your web presence at a disadvantage in today’s ultra-competitive digital landscape.
Personas should be used at the start of any new web initiative because they open the door to who’s really using your site and how you can improve usability for them.
Think of persona research like running a focus group for a product. We may think we know what people want or even have the analytics to back it up, but we’ll never get the full picture unless we ask.
The persona process is straightforward and really can have a significant impact on designing a website that suits your intended audiences.
How do personas fit into your digital strategy?
While personas can (and should) play a significant role in your larger digital strategy, that doesn’t mean you should base everything around them.
In every project, there are user goals and organizational goals and sometimes the two are not aligned. Finding the right balance between goals is where strategy can get creative, and building a strategy that combines powerful analytics with accurate persona research can be an ideal scenario.
Take for example a situation where persona research has revealed that all users are looking for a certain web page, while analytics show very few hits on that page, even though it’s front and center on the website. What could be happening here?
Maybe the responses are skewed? Is there a technical issue? Is the mobile version of the site displaying the page less prominently than the desktop version? Maybe there is something about the way the page is named or presented that’s throwing people off? Even the most complicated UX problems can be figured out with a solid combination of analytics and persona research.
What are the key components of a website persona?
As you build out your digital strategy with the above in mind, here are a few key components you’ll want to look for in your persona research:
Demographic information provides valuable insight into who is using your website and how they use it. Gaining visibility into things like the prevalent age groups of your users and the locations they’re accessing your site from can help you establish a baseline of user behavior and account for variables you may see in additional responses.
Technological information provides further context for how users are engaging with your site. This information is also important to consider as you optimize your site for the various devices users are accessing it from.
Mobile-responsive sites or sites using PWAs have grown in popularity because of this very reason, and understanding the device habits of your user base will go a long way in providing an optimal experience for them, no matter how they access your site.
The behavioral component of persona research is extremely important because it provides context into how frequently users are accessing a website and what they do once they’re there.
Do certain users migrate to certain parts of the site? Do they spend more time there than others? Are some users more likely to convert than others? Are there design impediments or bugs that are leading to certain behaviors?
Analytics can play a large role here by helping you follow the user journey for various user types. Armed with this information, you can design a better UX that’s suited to the way users prefer to behave on your site.
User goals are at the heart of any persona research effort. Distilling exactly what a user is trying to do may not be obvious at first, but once you start to combine the above demographic, technological, and behavioral characteristics you’ve compiled, you’ll start to get a real sense of how a user is experiencing your website and how you can optimize your design to better suit their needs.
When conducting persona research at Inorbital, we help define user goals by asking respondents to explain their current goals, pain points, and to dream up a perfect use case scenario specific to their needs. We find that having open-ended questions that ask the same thing from a different perspective often helps paint a wider picture.
Respondents may be satisfied with some elements of a site but view new functionality as a “nice-to-have” in their dream scenario, while others may gravitate towards pain points and need a prompt to better identify their true needs. Gaining that wider perspective is key when defining overall user goals.
Offering respondents the option to provide a quote may seem a bit superfluous, but it tends to offer a good opportunity for someone to phrase their opinions in their own words. We gain a surprising amount of insight from quotes gathered in our research because they’re often abstract and provide added color that brings together all the information in an interesting way.
Are you still on the fence about persona research? Don‘t think you have time to make it a part of your design process? In reality, you may already be doing some of the above, and building out additional persona research to better understand your users can be an incredibly rewarding aspect of planning your next design project.
One of the great things about persona research is that you can run it in a variety of ways at little cost. Once you have enough data to draw from, and a process in place for analyzing it, you can begin implementing new insights into your design process that help you build better-than-ever user experiences.