​How personas help guide user experience design

By Dorothee Dening, UX Designer, Oxygen on

Businesses thrive when they understand exactly what type of customer their products attract. Trying to appeal to a wide cross-section of people is rarely an effective business strategy. Much better to aim for a particular type of target and fine-tune the offering to appeal to their preferences and buying motivations.

How to create effective online interactions with personas

When so much interaction occurs on screen, how exactly does a business find out who its best customers are and ensure its online experience appeals to the people it needs to? Oxygen’s ecommerce practice regularly faces this problem. As a user experience designer, one of the tools I employ to create effective online interactions is the creation of personas – customer archetypes that are developed using surveys and website analysis.

This technique is not limited to the world of ecommerce. It can be used in B2B scenarios and government / citizen interactions as well. The same criteria apply. Find out the characteristics of the key user and then create a persona to guide the design experience.

For example, if an organisation comes to us wanting to improve its online customer shopping experience, one of the first things we do is analyse its website data. Google Analytics and other similar analysis applications, provide a rich source of information that allows us to begin painting a picture of what the organisation’s ideal customer looks like. Using it we can find out demographic information, technical data, traffic numbers, as well as the geographic location of the organisation’s customers.

Leveraging user behaviour distinctions

To flesh out our persona further we proactively seek more information through online surveys, user interviews, contextual enquiries and shadowing – methods that help us get a better idea of the most common users’ browsing habits, their likes, dislikes and preferences.

Does the typical customer use the navigation to find a product, or do they like using the website’s search function? These types of user behaviour distinctions are important as they help us flush out any problems with the site’s user interface. They may use the search function because the navigation isn’t descriptive enough, for example, or because some products are too deeply ‘buried’ within the site.

For an ecommerce project, we would also conduct interviews with customers to find out what other websites they commonly shop at, how often they go online, and whether they buy online or prefer to research online and then purchase at a bricks and mortar store.

Armed with this information we can build up a prime persona – a target type of user who, going forward, all our design work is oriented towards. We also assign them a name and often a photograph. Referencing them in this way means they are no longer anonymous to the user experience design team.

If the persona has a name and an image, they become more real and it is surprising how much that helps facilitate communication within the design team. It helps create alignment across the entire team through a customer centric approach; helps stakeholders get a better understanding of customer needs and how to solve them; and it keeps the team focused on outcomes that meet user needs.

Our design team then sets about ensuring its designs work to the persona’s advantage. We endeavour to eliminate our persona’s pain points and amplify the things they like about the online experience.

What would our persona do?

Personas help keep user experience designers on task by reinforcing the key behaviours of each customer type. If is often a good test by which certain website features are included or excluded. If it doesn’t help our key persona’s online experience is there a reason for that feature to be included?

If the data doesn’t support it, that feature is probably not appropriate for the type of person the site is being designed for and it should be jettisoned. In every project, there is always the temptation to include a feature because it is new and exciting, or because it looks good.

But will our persona use the feature, let alone appreciate it? That is the acid test.

If you would like to find out more about Oxygen’s ecommerce and user experience design capabilities, please email Dorothee.Dening@uxcoxygen.com or Isaac.Sane@uxcoxygen.com