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Understanding your users

by Nick Mackay

4 September 2018

When producing online content, it's very important to identify and understand your most important users. User personas can help with this, and help you understand the needs and values of specific user groups. They let you make better design and content decisions for the primary user, rather than trying to cater to too a broad an audience.

Personas can help with putting together briefs, setting objectives for the design process, and with developing content.

The goal is to think outside of your own perspective and see your product or service through your user’s eyes.

Personas also promote user-centred design, rather than focusing on your own personal preferences.

It’s important that strong personas are developed, otherwise they have the potential to do more harm than good.

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Developing strong user personas

When developing user personas it is very important that the correct user group is identified, and that you don’t let bias and business objectives creep in and influence the process.

There are a few methods for developing personas, but probably the most common are ad-hoc personas and behavioural personas.

Ad-hoc personas

Ad-hoc personas are based on intuition and assumptions, with various stakeholders coming up with their own perceptions about the primary users. These personas do not necessarily need to be “real”, just realistic, and can help expose differences of opinion between different stakeholders.  This method should be used in conjunction with other methods to understand users.

Behavioural personas

Behavioural personas are taken from qualitative insights such as interviews, focus groups, user feedback and specific examples of actual user behaviour. They don’t focus on who the user is, but what they do and why they do it. This is more valuable as it is based on real behaviours, not assumptions.

Our recommendation is that behavioural personas should always be the primary focus, as ad-hoc personas are more susceptible to personal bias and incorrect assumptions. Ad-hoc personas can be valuable as a starting point, but they should be combined with behavioural personas to test and validate intuition and assumptions.

One thing to be careful of with personas, is that stereotypes will naturally be used to fill in some of the gaps in insights and intuition. This is often unavoidable, so it’s important that other types of user testing and research be considered to help develop a more complete picture of user needs and behaviour.

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