Shelly Ulsblad, a 22 year old New York native living in the very thick of the city, is looking for shoes. Not just any shoes, but a pair of shoes with the glitz to get the guys and the smarts to go to work. A pair of shoes as cruelty-free and fashion-forward as the woman wearing them.
Shelly Ulsblad is your kind of customer.
She’s also not real.
She is an example of a user persona. In this case she is a user persona made for an online-based shoe company with a focus on environmentally-friendly materials.
User Personas are fictional characters created to improve the user experience of a website by balancing the designer’s want for The Shiny with the user’s want for Interesting and Easy. They are an in-depth look into a website’s primary and secondary audience, and often go into detail about their needs and capabilities. As we all know (or should know) user experience is the end-all-be-all of web design, and user personas help ensure that the experience is a good one. Let’s be honest, if the user doesn’t like the experience, they’re going to quit experiencing it. And then they’re going to go tell all their friends about you your website.
Let’s use the example of the online shoe store again. On one hand you have Shelly, a younger audience member looking for a website that is quick, efficient and modern. On the other you may have Oliver Stranz, a 55 year old retiree with a love for hiking and morning jogs around his quiet suburban neighborhood. All Oliver wants is the website equivalent of a fast food drive-in. Easy, efficient and high-calorie.
Well, maybe not that last part.
When creating a user persona (because you’re going to use them now that you know they’re important, right? Riiiiiight?) it is best to do the following:
Go into detail: The real-er the better…er. Consider their hometown, current town, lifestyle, day-to-day tasks, profession, computer-literacy level, computer preference, and browser of choice.
Remember your audiences: Don’t settle for Betty Bigcity and forget all about Granny Molasses. Be sure to create enough personas to accurately represent both your primary and secondary audience.
Tack on a photo: Nothing is more effective than looking into Granny’s smiling face. How can you ignore that? You wouldn’t want your website to make Granny frown, would you?
Personas are important because they help a designer to keep all audiences in mind. It’s easy to get lost in the world of endless possibility presented by web design. However, while you’re drooling over your thirteen JQuery plugins, your 60 year old target audience will be closing the window before they even bother to blink.
A glance every now and then at Shelly, Oliver, and maybe Granny Molasses will help you remember who you’re talking to, and will help any web designer keep their feet on the ground.