In the field of User Experience Design (UXD), a similar technique – the use of personas – can also be remarkably useful.
Rather than create designs & features that you think people will like (or even riskier, that you think are cool), it can be worth creating imaginary users and testing your designs against their make-believe – but informed – patterns of behaviour.
Pick your target
Everything you create will have a target audience, be that young males, silver surfers or affluent professionals with 2.4 kids and a 4×4 in the driveway.
You can bring these people to life by creating a persona, including:
A first name is usually enough – something to remember them by, which is useful if you end up creating multiple personas
What do they do?
Are they a high earner? Just starting out on the career ladder? Retired?
Where do they live – and who with?
Do they live in the hustle & bustle of a large city, or are they residents of somewhere smaller and quieter? Are they married? Cohabiting? Sharing a dorm?
What are their ‘brands’?
What clothes do they wear; what papers do they read; what music do they like; where do they buy their groceries?
How do they spend their free time?
Are they an extreme sports junkie? An avid reader? Do they dress up as a clown at the weekend and entertain children’s parties?
If your site was aimed at young professional males, by the end of a persona creation exercise you could end up with someone like this:
Simon is a trainee investment banker in London. He lives in the suburbs and it takes him 2 hours every day to travel to and from work. He’s newly-engaged, and his fiancee has just moved into his 2-bedroom apartment.
Simon reads the Guardian and trashy fiction. He enjoys looking good and wants to make an impression, so he spends quite a bit of money on designer clothes and sharp suits.
He’s just upgraded to high-definition TV and enjoys watching sport on his 42″ screen at home.
At weekends, he shops online for food with his partner at waitrose.com and plays 5-a-side football with his friends. He’s learning guitar, but he’s not very good at it yet.
So, what does this tell us, and how can we use it in our designs?
If Simon is representative of our target audience, we can deduce things from his persona and make sure we’re taking the appropriate action:
He spends 2 hours a day commuting
That’s a portion of his time you could be going after – is your design optimised for mobile / smartphone access?
He’s got a fair chunk of money at the moment and loves ‘designer’ things
Does your brand reflect this? Is your affiliation strategy aligned? No point having ads for discount stores if Simon prefers the finer things in life…
He’s just moved in with his fiancee
His disposable income probably won’t be disposable for long – a perfect time to examine your pricing model and perhaps consider setting up a reward scheme?
He reads trashy fiction, loves watching sport and football
He sounds like a bit of a lad’s lad, so make sure your tone of voice is appropriate. Too stuffy and staid and Simon will be off like a shot…
He shops at waitrose.com
He’s obviously web-savvy and comfortable registering for services – if you’re selling a product, you’d better make sure you offer it online too.
Perhaps we should have called him Harvey…Personas certainly aren’t the only method of user centred design you should consider – nothing beats getting your wireframes and early builds in front of real people; or better yet doing a formal observational usability test.
But, if time and money are tight, your imaginary persona friends can be a great help: they’ll keep you focused, tell you when something doesn’t feel right and might suggest features you wouldn’t have otherwise thought of.
So, consider developing personas for your next design and ask yourself: what would Simon say?