Why Personas are Valuable

Stephanie Hay, Former Viget

Article Category: #Design & Content

Posted on

Creating personas that are representative of the key audiences clients are trying to reach is baked into our process here at Viget. We undertake this process for a number of reasons, not least of which is to guide our decisions about priorities and to re-orient discussions when personal preferences get in the way.

How do we do it?  Well, ideally, we'd have no budget constraints or time restrictions so we could survey at least three individuals from each audience group the client identifies.  We'd gather quantifiable data about their likes and dislikes, record their demographics and goals, measure their actions and behaviors on various sites, and keep them in the loop so, upon launch, we have the perfect use cases for testing.  Whenever the engagement terms allow, we love being able to conduct this intensive research so our clients have feedback straight from the horse's mouth, as they say.

More often than not, however, we are on tight schedules and an overall estimated budget that doesn't take into account the many weeks of intense research audience research requires.  So, instead of scrapping the process all together, we compromise and create personas based on our local contacts plus internal and external assumptions -- and it has proved invaluable for our clients. 

In this typical process, we start by talking to clients about who they're trying to reach, then we make some assumptions about those users. We assign them expected demographics, goals for using the site, desired actions we want them to take, and even a picture so we all know what that person might look like. We'll circulate ideas to other staffers and identify potential contacts who embody these characteristics.  We get staff and client feedback over the course of a couple weeks rather than a couple months, which is what more robust market research usually requires.  In the end, our typical persona-generation process yields modified market research that's pivotal to guiding the entire project without requiring excess budget and timelines.

So, for example, let's say we want to make a site that sells doohickees to students who need a bit of extra help retaining information. We decide to call a typical user "Jack," then imagine he's 21 and spends about four hours a day on average hanging out online across instant messaging, Facebook, general browsing, and doing a little homework. Of course he needs a doohickee, so we figure out how he could use it and how he'll find it online, plus how he'll want to use to purchase it. We find a picture of Jack and round out the persona; now, we have a visual and descriptive representation of one of our target users from which all our decisions can be derived. As long as *Jack* gets what we're trying to do, we're still on the right track.

Every business -- online or offline -- comes to the table with assumptions about their audiences. Often, we can make solid recommendations thanks to analytics data that indicates actual user behavior. Or, we can go off the data gathered by other marketing firms that were hired to survey people who gave valuable feedback on their user experiences.  When clients or Lab staff were or are among those personas, then we're really cookin'.

Breathing life into a vague term like "CEOs" or "18-35 year olds" is incredibly valuable to keep everyone thinking regularly about the specific backgrounds, goals, and demographics of their users. And keeping the users at top-of-mind is a crucial component to creating a seamless user experience across the board.

We hope clients will know their audiences better than anyone so we can then create personas to represent the key players.  If they don't, the process of defining personas will help get them there. 

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