The Important Role of User Personas in UX

Posted on Thu, September 29, 2016 in Business Strategy, Identity Design, User Interface, by Alicia Nagel

Websites and apps are a form of communication between an individual, organization, or business and a user.

Because this communication is largely one-sided (the user is reading what the website or app is communicating but not vice versa) as creators we have a responsibility to anticipate what the user might say if they were able to engage in a conversation with the website or app. This accomplishes two things:

  1. It adds value for the user since you are anticipating their needs. This will establish you as an expert on the topic at hand, contribute to them feeling you are helpful and useful, and lead them to form positive associations with your brand.
  2. By extending the length and depth of the “conversation” between your website or app and the user, you are increasing the amount of time they spend on your site and their level of engagement. The longer the interaction the greater the likelihood you will convert your user to take the actions you’d like them to – such as request a quote, call your business, or make a purchase.

How can we anticipate the user’s needs? By placing ourselves in their shoes.

Anyone knows who has ever experienced exquisite service at a hotel or restaurant, has been doted on by a loving family member or significant other, or who has received the “perfect holiday gift” – magic happens when someone anticipates our needs. Guest service professionals at white-glove hotels are taught to read cues provided by guests and make suggestions that might be helpful to those guests - would you like help carrying your bags? Will you be needing transportation to the airport tomorrow when you check out? Will you be needing a crib in your room for that young child? You mentioned it’s your anniversary celebration – can we bring up champagne this evening? This ability to read minds is not rocket science, but it does come from careful consideration of the guest’s situation and putting yourself in their shoes.

One of the Ritz Carlton’s three Credo’s is: “The Ritz-Carlton experience enlivens the senses, instills well-being, and fulfills even the unexpressed wishes and needs of our guests.”

If we carry these lessons over into the UX space, it makes sense that if we want to provide a meaningful, helpful, and exquisite user experience we simply need to put ourselves in the shoes of the user. This is where User Personas come in.

A strong User Persona gives you a glimpse into the mindset of the user, their motivations and concerns, and helps you envision the user as a real person. If a website or app is going to succeed at informing and/or persuading a user, it’s vital to know where this person is already coming from.

Treat different people differently. Anything else is a compromise.

– Seth Godin

User Personas can and should inform the design of our user experience.

Typically a website or app has 1-5 different user types who should have User Personas defined for them. While there will be some overlap between the motivations from persona to persona, each User Persona will have a top concern and a top motivation. It’s important that the homepage address these for each User Persona. They might be addressed by overall design look and feel, top navigation structure, the main image, or a content area – but it’s important that they all are addressed.

The other motivations and concerns of your User Personas should also be answered on your site, in sections or areas that are easily found through your site navigation. As you can see, User Personas can shape the UX of your design and make it into something that is truly created with your user in mind. When you do this, you are anticipating their needs. They will feel like you understand where they’re coming from. They will feel that your brand is knowledgeable and straightforward because they didn’t have to dig to get their questions answered. They’ll spend more time on your site because they’re having a conversation with your content – this is more engaging too because as they make their way through their own internal dialogue, the answers to their questions are readily available.

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