Tracking the elusive "user" in User Experience Design


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It's pretty tough to design a great user experience if you don't know the target audience. So when faced with this problem, well-equipped UX designers will turn to one of their favourite tools: the persona.

Personas draw upon the power of narrative and storytelling to shine a bright light on the elusive "user." They're especially effective when based upon primary research methods such as ethnography and in-context interviews. Done poorly, personas are little more
than a futile exercise in creative writing. But done properly, they become powerful representations of your users’ goals, motivations, and behaviours -- and can act as the "north star" for your design decisions.

From my guest lecture at Conestoga College in Kitchener, Ontario, Canada on September 27, 2013.

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  • Story of hearing debates at the conference table about who is the user. “ CEOs will love this ability to get a quick glance of all their shipping activities.” “ Perhaps, but what about a grandmother who simply wants to send cookies to her grandson?”
  • Search online to find more examples of personas. My blog has some resources, including the persona pictured on the right.
  • Use this as a checklist to identify general topic areas you’ll probably want to explore in almost every project. You will also need to add a few domain-specific topics relevant to what you’re studying. --- Goals : What a persona is trying to achieve. Life goals: Very high level. “Make a difference in the world.” Generally don’t go here! Domain goals: Why the person is using your product. “Stay in control.” Most of your persona’s goals will be at this level. Tasks & processes : How the person is trying to achieve their goals. Inputs & outputs : Information they require or provide to other people. Tools : What hardware and software do they use? Manual tools? Relationships : Who do they rely on? Who relies on them? Environment : Physical and social context. Past experience : Skills and history in the domain. Burning needs : What they find most frustrating.
  • You will encounter objections that personas are simply TOO CUTE. Don’t be surprised, it’s a normal response for many people. Personas are an effective format because they leverage the power of character and narrative/story. Our brains are hard-wired to consume information this way. It’s far easier to internalize, remember, and consequently empathize with a cast of characters than with a report that simply dumps data in your lap.
  • A useful side-effect of personas is that it’s possible to imagine them in new contexts you hadn’t considered. When questions arise during the course of a project, teams can pretty easily agree upon how their personas will feel and behave – and thus on how to approach the design.
  • Story of a project in which we had to imagine a new product or service that would allow you to “ courier ” documents electronically, instead of in airplanes. For a deep-dive into this case study, see my chapter in the book “ User-Centered Design Stories: Real-World UCD Case Studies” by Righi and James.
  • Start every persona initiative by interviewing project participants and stakeholder. Get all your existing assumptions out on the table! In this case study, the main assumption is that people would courier documents electronically when they are concerned about security.
  • Now get into the field to test your assumptions. Create a segmentation model of your market (ping your marketing folks for help with this), and plan to visit 4-6 people in each segment. You will probably have to choose some strategically valuable or representative segments. Visiting every possible user is not typically viable due to time and budget constraints. It’s common for these projects to visit a range of 20-50 people.
  • Perform a combination of interview, demonstration, and observation with each person. Duration will vary depending on your research domain. 60-90 minutes is common. Dig deep into what people DO, not what they SAY. In the ClickDox case study, we learned that people didn ’ t actually care about security – despite the results of focus groups. Their in-context behaviors indicated otherwise.
  • I have yet to encounter a project in which we DIDN’T learn something surprising and important! Why? Market research commonly talks to people about the product. In this research, you talk to people about them.
  • You will observe patterns as you conduct your research. That’s normal, because it’s how our brains work. And we’re really good at it! The following process suggests a more rigorous approach to analyzing what you’ve learned, to make sure you’re not fooling yourself. (It happens; we see patterns everywhere.)
  • For each interview, pull out a list of salient findings. 60-120 is common for every 1-hour interview. Mark the source of each observation (e.g., Participant #9) Print them onto cards that you can independently sort. Avery Removable White I.D. Labels (06498)
  • Across all your interviews, cluster them into “observations about the same thing.” Give each group a topic name, such as “Demands on time and attention”.
  • Repeat the process INSIDE each cluster. E.g., For demands on time and attention, you might notice common themes such as “a slave to their phone because of high call volume” and “must send update emails at least once/hour”.
  • Now look for patterns at a high level. Which of the themes always occur together? Which never occur together?
  • Skeletons of your basic personas will begin to emerge from this exercise.
  • Then add meat to the bones of your personas by drawing up other data from your research. Make each persona a rich, believable character.
  • If you have more than 1 primary persona, that means you probably need more than 1 product (or in software, >1 UI framework).
  • Never again talk about “the user”. Refer to your personas by name in every discussion.
  • If you’re unfamiliar with the product domain, personas are a fantastic tool for getting up to speed.
  • Personas help you to *feel* the pain of your users. As a result, it’s easier to identify and prioritize the high-value investments in your product.
  • Personas a generative. Brainstorm for ways to help each persona, and you’ll find the ideas keep flowing.
  • Personas help you to set design objectives for your product. What are the most important things to achieve?
  • Personas will help you sell “crazy” ideas that are outside normal practices for the business – because their value is more clear. Example of documentation team getting the go-ahead to produce a series of short videos instead of assuming that everyone will read their 200 pounds of documentation.
  • When you have a clear picture of WHO you ’re designing for, it’s easier to know WHAT to build and HOW to design it.
  • Tracking the elusive "user" in User Experience Design

    1. 1. Tracking the elusive “user” in UX Robert Barlow-Busch • @becubed Photo by RichardAM on Flickr
    2. 2. “The user” can bea slippery little devil Photo by Lali Masriera on Flickr
    3. 3. Personas help you pindown the user
    4. 4. Common ingredientsGoalsTasks and processesInputs and outputsToolsRelationshipsEnvironmentPast experienceBurning needs
    5. 5. “Ah, aren’t those personas cute!” Photo by David Kozlowski on Flickr
    6. 6. “Ah, aren’t those personas cute!” Photo by David Kozlowski on Flickr
    7. 7. Persona best practices ClickDox case study Photo by on Flickr
    8. 8. ClickDox assumption: security is paramount!
    9. 9. Check your assumptions through contextual research CAD 6 4 6 4 2 weeks duration • Toronto and San Francisco
    10. 10. Prepare to be surprised Photo by Jim Nix on Flickr
    11. 11. The right mindset for analysis
    12. 12. 1. Compile a master list of observations
    13. 13. 2. Arrange the observations into categories
    14. 14. 3. Identify specific findings within each category
    15. 15. 4. Cluster findings into coherent groups
    16. 16. This provides the basic frameworks…Wants to get things done. Is highly Strives to be seen as indispensible to Strives to save money for themotivated by finishing the day’s work. customers. organization.Wants to be in control and confident of Is more concerned about quality than Held accountable for downtime due towhat’s happening at all times. deadlines. technical issues.Would be happy with more security, but Sends documents by courier when Cannot plan ahead. “Fights fires” allvalues convenience more. they’re too big for email. day.Uses email as a detailed archive of Really doesn’t care about security. Loves the challenge of jugglingproject activity. priorities. Has limited computer skills outsideUses FTP to exchange files too big for AutoCAD. Has a dedicated email account for ITemail. emergencies.
    17. 17. …which you develop into full personas
    18. 18. Prioritize your personas Primary Will be unsatisfied with a product designed for anyone else. Secondary Distinct needs, but satisfied with a product for the primary. Anti A person whom we are not attempting to satisfy.
    19. 19. Then put them to work!
    20. 20. Personas help you understand
    21. 21. Personas help you empathize
    22. 22. Personas help you imagine
    23. 23. Personas help you focus
    24. 24. Personas help you innovate
    25. 25. Personas help you design
    26. 26. Q&A Robert Twitter @becubed