The Importance of User Personas

Know Your User … But, No, Really, KNOW YOUR USER.

There are a lot of times in the agency business that we talk about target audiences. For example, a retail shop may target the millennial mom or a restaurant may target the married man 50+ with a combined household income of $150K+. In media, we spend hours digging into the right target before launching a campaign. But it is on a rare occasion that you hear someone spend time discussing the user. Now, I know what you’re thinking: “Of course we think about the user when we are developing our site map, functionality document and wireframes.” But do you really?

Research Is Your Friend.

We would be kidding you if we told you at the initial kickoff that we know all there is to know about your user.

Newsflash: we don’t.

We listen intently, take a ton of notes and then spend hours upon hours researching using every publication we can find and tools like eMarketer. We research stats related to your industry, your desktop user and your mobile user. What are the current trends in the industry? What does a user want on a desktop site? What do they want on the mobile site?

If we’re lucky enough to have access to your current site or app, we pull as much data out of the Google machine as we possibly can. This provides insights like who your current user is, what type of operating system are they using, when they are visiting the site and so on and so forth.

After all the data and research is digested, the fun begins.

Be One With the User.

We get to fill the shoes of every possible user of your site that we can think of. I like to tell people it’s strategic storytelling. It becomes incredibly important when working on a mobile site or app, because there are so many different screen sizes and operating systems available. Not to mention, everyone has a different skill set on a mobile phone. My 56-year-old mom isn’t going to navigate her iPhone the same way I do at 26.

By creating user personas like George Frontgate, we are able to pinpoint important functionality that needs to be considered before even beginning to design a site. George is a 57-year-old lawyer who was recently using his iPhone 5 to search for nice steakhouses. After all, he and his wife, Nora, are celebrating their 25th wedding anniversary and he wants to plan something special. He stumbles upon a restaurant that has a mobile site featuring beautiful images and can easily access the menu, but ultimately, he’ll go to the desktop to finalize his decision and make a reservation.

This tells me a few things that we need to consider when developing the mobile restaurant site:

  • Users are going to have smaller screens, so we need to build a site that can size accordingly and not look cluttered on smaller screen sizes.
  • Users are going to have different operating systems, so the site needs to be built for the old operating systems and new operating systems. This will impact what functionality the developer will use to the build the site.
  • We must feature big, beautiful imagery that sells the ambiance of the restaurant.
  • Users must be able to locate and navigate to the menu easily.
  • George isn’t proficient on his mobile phone, so we need to ensure that the experience from mobile to desktop is seamless — it shouldn’t feel like a separate site.

The Benefits.

After creating several more Georges, it’s key to share them with the subject matter experts.

A couple of months ago, I wrote what I thought was a fantastic user persona, Brian O’Mara. He’s a young man in his mid-20s looking for a restaurant to dine at with his girlfriend. He was searching at home on his couch and was looking for more information about the restaurant experience and the menu. I shared it with our client and found out that it was a user they encounter, but didn’t fit that restaurant based on its location. That most people weren’t traveling from other neighborhoods to dine at this particular restaurant. This is great insight for me to have about the brand as the Account Supervisor on the business, but it also helps our media planners when they are buying media for this location.

At the end of the day, if we didn’t do user personas, we wouldn’t know who was bound to end up using the site and how. We would forget about the little details like George needing imagery to convey the atmosphere of the restaurant, which ultimately lead a user to convert to a restaurant visitor. Developing these key considerations before design and development maximize our efficiency and set up the site for success.


Originally published at blog.gddinteractive.com on November 12, 2015.

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