Using Personas in the Web Design Process

October 2004

Information Architect Steve Mulder spoke at the Boston-IA meeting on September 29, 2004, about using personas to help design better user experiences for everyone on the World Wide Web.

Boston-IA kicked off its 2004-2005 program year by diving into practical topics to give information architects, usability specialists, and other Internet professionals the tools they need to create better user experiences for everyone.

Topic: "Personas: Making Your Users Real"

Date: September 29, 2004

Speaker: Steve Mulder

Location: Bentley University
Waltham, Massachusetts

Information Architect and Web guru Steve Mulder gave an amusing and informative presentation, full of examples, about the use of personas in the Web design and development process.

Steve Mulder is a senior consultant in the User Experience group at Molecular in Watertown, Massachusetts. He has delivered successful user experiences for clients such as Morgan Stanley, PC Connection, Estee Lauder, 3M, and Lycos.

Steve brings together the disciplines of information architecture and usability. Through his expertise in information architecture, he translates knowledge about customers into effective features, site structure, navigation, and search systems. Through his expertise in usability, Steve applies testing techniques to guarantee that the solutions will work for the intended audience.

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In his presentation, Steve explained that personas are profiles of the types people most likely to visit your Web site. Personas are a very effective tool for focusing the decision-making and design process on the goals and behaviors of real users throughout the Web design process.

During his talk, Steve discussed why personas are valuable and how to create them, including research techniques, user segmentation, and the details that make these fictional characters come to life. Then he showed how personas can be useful throughout the entire site creation process, from prioritizing features through information architecture and visual design.

In his presentation, Steve summarized the basic steps for creating personas:

  • Start development of personas during the research stage.
  • Analyze data from existing traffic logs, user interviews, and usability tests to connect user intentions with their activities.
  • Segment Web site visitors into groups based on their goals and behavior.
  • Choose a few representative user types from that data, and identify user goals and business objectives for each one.
  • Attach names, photos, and details to make the personas you create seem more real.
  • Create stories to document various scenarios typical users might encounter while visiting the new site.

Using personas helps the project team internalize the characters and more easily consider real user needs during decision-making throughout the information architecture and visual design phases.

To apply personas during accessibility initiatives, be sure to include details about disabilities when developing character descriptions.

Web sites will be most inclusive when designers recognize the diversity of potential users and the variety of their experience, whether they use assistive technologies or simply have different abilities and preferences.

Steve concluded his presentation with a list of resources for learning more about personas, including:

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