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The Usability Blog
A Practical Guide to User Experience Insights

Website Personas: A Practitioner’s Guide – Predictive Personas© (1/7)

You are about to embark on a major site redesign. Your team has come up with a raft of ideas, covering everything from exotic product simulators to a new color palette. How do you evaluate the ideas? You can’t afford to poll users as each new idea emerges. You typically need to dig more deeply into user reaction than simple feature ranking exercises allow. You certainly have neither the time nor the budget to explore every idea. So how do you choose?

Let’s assume your team’s list of ideas includes a mobile-optimized version of your site. The idea triggers immediate questions. What sort of design should you use? Should you promote it? How should mobile be integrated into the brand experience? Which visitor types are most likely to use it? Where will they be located when accessing it? What will they be trying to accomplish?

If you don’t have well-developed personas, answering questions like these becomes a crap-shoot, an exercise in advanced guessing, which is the same as an exercise in regular guessing. You have a 50/50 chance of being right.

The persona responses below, however, demonstrate how you can answer these types of questions definitively IF you have a set of well-researched, diligently crafted personas. Not only can you predict HOW your visitors will react to a mobile-optimized site, you can explain WHY they will react that way.

Billy Boomer – A mobile version of the site is of no use to him BECAUSE his eyesight and dexterity are eroding faster than his patience and he uses his smartphone for little other than calls and the occasional text

Vince Value – He would use the mobile site IF it gave him access to the same tools he currently uses for product comparison and evaluation; thoroughness (the process) is more important to him than convenience (the context of use)

Annie Always – She would use a mobile site BECAUSE she is stretched, stressed, and sleep-deprived these days and snatches even the briefest opportunities to shop, most often during the intervals between ferrying kids from one activity to another

Cason Committed – He would embrace a mobile experience BECAUSE it plays to his identity as an early adopter and expert in all things related to life-enhancing technologies

Reggie Reluctant – He would NOT investigate a mobile site UNLESS he was incented or given a personally compelling reason; he wants to be seduced into new experiences, not be seen to be seeking them out

Jessie Joiner – She will use a mobile site IF she sees her friends using it; she will use it less out of personal utility than out of a need to be in step with her peer group

Note the emphasis of the CONJUNCTIONS. These are the proof of predictability. The presence of conditional or causal conjunctions illustrates the depth of the team’s understanding of their personas’ attitudes and underpins the confidence with which they can predict persona responses. The design team can pose any question – content-, layout-, design-, feature-, or function-related. They can explain not only how their personas think, but why they think that way. They can predict responses to almost any stimulus.

This degree of certitude takes the guesswork out of design and makes the decision-making process run faster and more confidently than could otherwise be the case. Agencies we have worked with maintain that this process reduces development time by weeks. (One agency estimated it had reduced development time by two months in comparison to recently completed, large-scale projects.) The ROI on that kind of saving is too obvious to need quantifying.

Let’s look at this predictive capability within the context of a brand site. The design ideas up for discussion in this instance include the need for a persuasive registration page. Similar questions ensue: How do you know if visitors will use it? What sort of design should you use? Should you offer an immediate incentive or should you simply list the advantages that accrue to registrants? How should registration be integrated into the site experience?

If you had personas like these, you would know that:

Sammy Social – Registration would be his first action from the home page BECAUSE “the need to belong” is his driving motivation

Val Vanity – She would register IF it elevated in some visible way her status with the brand and provided additional access

Nellie Nervous – She would register BECAUSE she cannot leave any stone unturned and would worry she’d missing out on something valuable if she didn’t register

Campbell Committed – He would register BECAUSE it is the responsible thing to do in a relationship built on trust and communication

A design team can achieve this level of insight only through a disciplined, training-enabled approach to persona development and application. There are five primary elements to the process. You won’t find them (as a single, coherent process) in the “best practices” webinars of the likes of Forrester, where the experts are not so much practitioners as they are collators. In the next five blog posts in this series, you’ll learn how real practitioners do it. Stay tuned.

– Roger Beynon, CSO, Usability Sciences

Interested in talking with us about Personas? Contact us over at http://www.usabilitysciences.com

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