By Wendy Eichenbaum
Most of us are familiar with marketing personas. They are fictional characters that put a face on the people who use a company’s product or service. Let’s say a company created a calendar app that targets busy individuals. Their primary persona could be Mary.
Mary is a young woman who is married and a mother of two. She lives in a suburb of Chicago. She is a part-time accountant at a local bank. This gives her time to shuttle her children to after school activities and take a yoga class two mornings a week. If she’s running out of time, she’ll use her iPhone apps to outsource chores, such as grocery delivery and help around the house.
You probably have a pretty good picture in your head of Mary, even though she’s a fictional character. But when you’re designing your product, how do these details inform your choices about the calendar’s feature set? You can assume that Mary enters appointments, but every calendar app enables that. There are two questions: what problem is your app solving for Mary; and what would make Mary choose your app over your competitor’s app?
To analyze this, you need to explore your customers’ pain points. What hurdles do they face when organizing their lives? When does the calendar app cause confusion or frustration when managing their schedules? Don’t sit around the conference room table making guesses. Go out into the field and talk with your customers about their problems and the products they bought to address their problems. This product could be yours or a competitor’s. Or there could be no product, and you’re investigating their “work-around.”
There are two very powerful tools to gather and assess the voice of the customer. One is a Needs Analysis, where you ask users to describe their pain around a problem or a product. The other is a Contextual Inquiry, where you watch users in the field with your product to find out where the product works well, and where it causes frustration and confusion.
Once you have this data, you can create a design persona. A design persona is a story about the fictional character that centers on the user’s goal, behavior, and pain points. The story describes why Mary does what she does in regards to scheduling and calendar apps, which helps everyone on the design team create a product that aligns with her needs. Let’s look at a short example.
Mary gets up at 5:30 am. This is her hour to collect her thoughts and organize her day before her family wakes up. First, she reviews at her schedule for the day. Then she scans the notebook she carries in her purse. Mary uses this notebook jot down “to-do” reminders during the day. Finally, she searches her calendar for time to schedule these “to-do’s.” While it takes time to review her notebook, she finds that it’s faster to record a note on paper, rather pull out her phone, type in a note, and find an open time slot, all while she’s on the go.
A full design persona would cover more of Mary’s day and needs. But already it’s easy to see that Mary has little time, and gives up sleep to just organize her day. An ideal solution would make it more efficient for her to update her schedule when a trigger arises, rather than the next day. Maybe there is a “quick add” button on the top screen of the calendar app, and she can dictate the details.
Marketing personas and design personas are complementary documents. They are both critical pieces of data that remind you who is going to use your product and why they will use it. They focus the design team on the ideal feature set.
About the Author
Wendy Eichenbaum has been a UX professional since the early-1990’s. She began her career as a technical writer. She then earned a Master of Arts in Professional Writing at Carnegie Mellon University, studying both writing and UI design. Over the years, she has worked across verticals, from start-ups to multi-national firms, in many areas of UX including research & strategy, Information Architecture, usability testing, and focus groups. She started her own UX consulting firm in 2008, Ucentric Design. And she is an adjunct professor at Cal State University, Fullerton. There she teaches a class that she created, User-Centered Design for Web and Mobile Interfaces.