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A Practical Guide to User Experience Insights

Website Personas: A Practitioner’s Guide – Multi-viewpoint Deliverables (Post 4 of 7)

If you have ever taken a class on fiction writing, you know that the first discipline is that of understanding viewpoint and the need to stay in it. Persona development benefits from similar rules. We describe each persona in a set from three viewpoints: 1. a third party view; 2. the first-person voice of the persona; 3. the persona as seen through the eyes of the site owners. Each viewpoint paints a different picture and provides additional context. The combination should provide a rich, intimate, multi-dimensional portrait — an avatar. The more context you can provide, the greater the value the persona can convey. I often use a sequence of shifting observation points to illustrate the effect. This object, when viewed from below, is obviously a square.



Rotate the observation point 90 degrees and it becomes a triangle..



Change the viewing point to a different plane (off to the side) and the object is revealed as a pyramid.


The initial perspective conveys one idea clearly. The second introduces not only new information but additional interpretation. But only when you see the third image can you grasp the whole truth and all the implications of what you are seeing. Viewpoint changes perspective. New perspectives add incrementally to understanding.

Viewpoint 1: 3rd party

This viewpoint is the equivalent of what serves as a full deliverable in most persona development work. Here is an example of a one-page layout. It contains four sections in a variety of formats.


Bulleted information is the most common format, but we utilize prose-style to better facilitate the training exercises later in the process. Here are some sample layouts, panel by panel, starting with a health care professional (HCP) user for an insurance website

1. A photograph of the individual, usually with a caption illustrating a key attitude, experience, or personality trait.


2. Typically bulleted, this section provides the relevant, base demographics – age, education, ethnicity, employment, etc. along with pertinent professional (or consumer) attitudes and behaviors.


3. The 3rd party view should also include a short background narrative relevant to the context. In this example, we explain for the design team how the persona’s skills and career relate to the challenges of her medical practice. All these factors come into play in terms of what she needs from a health insurance website and how she would optimally use it.


4. The final section within the 3rd party viewpoint describes for the design team the persona’s formative experiences, the attitudes derived from them, and contextually relevant behaviors. Again, these are described in terms of what she needs from health insurance website and how she would optimally use it.

Here’s an alternative treatment of the same 3rd party information set — this time for an architect — with hyperlinks attached to concepts within the text that may be unfamiliar to the design team or other users of the deliverable. As with the HCP example, the (blue) quote box sets up a key character attribute that relates to the question of website design.

As social media plays a greater role in life and mobile computing invades every nook and cranny, our personas incorporate ever more of that experience. Facebook posts, Likes, photo- and friend-counts; Twitter follows and posts; Pinterest groups; LinkedIn affiliations and recommendations: they all provide detail that helps the design team gain insight into what drives personas behavior. (We will treat customer journeys and use cases in a separate blog series.) In summary, you might think of the 3rd party viewpoint as providing the salient background in preparation for your meeting the persona in person. That’s what the second viewpoint delivers – a first-person take, the persona through his or her voice.

Viewpoint 2: 1st person

No part of the process nor any part of the deliverable is more important (nor more potent) than this section. This is where the persona truly comes to life, where the design team can hear the persona speak and (almost) look into his/her eyes. This section provides the greatest value in the subsequent training exercise. It typically includes two elements. The first lays out the experiences, beliefs, and behaviors most germane to the design effort. The second describes the persona’s experiences on the site and their reaction to it. It conveys the site task(s) most associated with the persona’s need state. (These examples are not “use cases.” We will, as mentioned previously, treat use cases and the customer journey in a separate series of blog posts.) Here, for each element, are sample treatments for a business and a consumer persona. In their own words …


And on the consumer side …

Getting insight into the core of who these people are allows the design team to understand them at a deeper level than would be the case if the background information went no further than the 3rd party viewpoint. The first-person narrative reveals the persona’s values and their sense of identity. The design team eventually feels as if it knows these folks from the inside out. That knowledge sets up the final viewpoint – that of the site owners.

Viewpoint 3: Through the eyes of the site owners

This section answers the design team’s question: So what does all this mean to us and for the way we need to interact with this persona? This section can be both descriptive and analytical. It can also provide additional context through the inclusion of photographs, lists, work flows, illustrations, social media postings, embedded video, software screen shots — whatever meets the criteria of “really useful for someone on the design team.” Here is an example of what we mean by “analytical”:


Here are some of the supporting assets that add color and context to how the design teams view their personas.

Exhibit 1: The old, manual calendar system by which Caro used to track offers, deals, and discounts
Persona-Post-4-Pic16Exhibit 2: Caro’s email rules as she applies them to one of her favorite discount retailers

Examples of assets we might see on a persona for a B2B site might include items like the following:

Persona-Post-4-Pic17Exhibit 3: iPads have replaced schematics. Printing and copying costs have fallen by $500,000 in the last two years of this five-year project. But the site managers don’t have anywhere to write their notes and annotate changes. So they forget. Which causes problems.
Persona-Post-4-Pic18Exhibit 4: Single family home construction has led every economic recovery since WW2. It is nowhere in sight for companies like Joe’s. He monitors this index monthly and adjusts his forecasts and budgets accordingly.

– Roger Beynon, CSO, Usability Sciences

Interested in talking with us about Personas? Contact us here.


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