Who is your website for? 5 min read.

Who is your website for?

On most web projects I have seen, all we knew was a one line description of who would be using it.

On your project I imagine that you have been told something like this by management:

“The site will be used by our staff, who will write up stories and news adding images, videos and other visuals. They will do so at their desk using whatever computer they have. The current solution is slowing us down, so make us a new one”

Next thing you do is that you ask the engineers to break the tasks down and guestimate how log it will take. You then assign a UI designer to the group of engineers and kick them off with a pep talk about what you would love to accomplish and how great it will be.

If you’re in one of the few organisations where the ground is already laid for rapid business development this would probably turn out just fine, but in most places there is a lot of information missing causing the people you gave the task to make poor decisions.

The first question to ask is “who is this for?”. Our staff, you say.

If I asked you to describe your mother and I asked her colleagues, best friend, husband and neighbor to do the same; Would they all give the same answer? I bet they wouldn’t.

The way you see the staff you are talking about is different from how they are understood by the engineers, the designer, and how they see themselves. So when the team has to decide on how the website should behave and what features are important to implement everybody will have a different opinion because they are all making it with a different person in mind.

A good way to answer the question “Who is this for?” Is to give an example and put that on a single sheet of paper that you can refer to when making decisions on a daily basis. With this in hand anyone on the team should have the same notion of who this is for.

In Interaction Design we call these personas. Ideally you should put real effort into defining a full fledged persona with enough detail to answer a wide range of uncertainty. Ok, I understand that this sounds like market research and would require a budget to start. Let me assure you that you cannot design according to market research, and that you can get started without a budget. However you get more value the better you make the persona.

Sketch Personal

Lets make a sketch. To begin with it will be vague, but as you add information it becomes more concrete. Think about a character in a movie, the more story you learn about them the more real they seem. The more you see them as a person you care about. So just like a writer, you start with simple stuff: name, age, where the grew up, where they live and work. Unlike a movie character the description should represent real users that you know about.

Try on some questions to gather details

In the first round gather people that know the most about the users and collect what you know. Be careful to note how well you know each detail. Record your findings in a one page persona sketch.

The goal of personas is not represent all audiences or address all needs of the website but instead to focus on the major needs of the most important user groups. For your first persona you should try to describe the best example of a user you can come up with.

When thinking about persona goals, consider carefully that some goals are not the sites/organisation/your goals. I.E. I want to be friends with my colleagues, or I want to work in a way that is quiet.

Next time you make decisions that affect how the website behaves to the user I.E.

Bring the persona sketch into the conversation to help ground it in a common understanding.

If this works for you, for your own sake, explain the value to management and ask the what they might get out of a solid and consistent understanding of your users in the organization in the form of a full persona definition.

One of the values you will hopefully find is that the quality of business/management reviews for the website improvements will be much more constructive. If somebody gets carried away with colors of a box or the alignment of texts, hopefully somebody else will have the guts to ask “would .. care about this as much as other things on the page?”

Good luck with your first persona

P.S. Oh, just wanted to give some credit Allan Cooper that champions Personas. Here is his expanation:

AC: Basically you find one person, understand their vision and their final desired end state, and then make them ecstatically happy about reaching their end state. That is the essence of Goal-Directed Design. And what you need are two things: 1) Find (or synthesize) the right person and 2) Design for that person. At a place like Apple, Steve Jobs was already that right person, and they needed look no further. For us at Cooper, a team of trained designers needs to synthesize the representative user, called a persona.

Sketching