Personas for better UX! Is it really necessary?
Posted by Deepti Seshadri, Project Manager, Infosys
Did your UX designer ever tell you that he or she needs time to speak to actual users and create 'Personas' before continuing? Did this request surprise you? Why would the designer need personas when the requirements have been stated clearly? There is nothing wrong if such questions crossed your mind. A common thought is that personas are not required. After all, how can a set of hypothetical user profiles really influence the overall user design of an application...
What we don't realize is when used in the right context, personas play a key role in significantly transforming the user experience associated with an application.
Consider an online shopping portal for books. Visitors to this site could range from young school going kids to senior citizens to adventure enthusiasts. Each set of visitors have their own class of persona, exhibiting different interests which could clearly influence their buying decisions. If the UX of the site has been designed keeping these personas in mind, then based on how the visitor traverses the application, the site will suggest relevant products or services of interest. This would no doubt have a very positive influence on the end user and his entire buying decision. The benefits of such an approach are clear and hence even organizations like banks and financial institutions are increasingly requesting a persona driven user experience design to ensure that their sites are more user friendly. They also use this design method to create multiple touch-points and modes of interaction between their customer care representatives and the end consumer so as to increase sales.
Personas are also extremely useful when designing an application or site for multichannel usage. Study of the chief activities performed by the target users on their mobile and hand held devices, helps to design the placement of functionalities and screen usage to craft an intuitive user journey. In one of our programs for designing a blood glucometer, persona study enabled us to come up with 8 innovative & usable concepts for the design - the best of which was selected for the final product development!
However, creating personas to driver user experience design doesn't work for all applications. For example, when designing enterprise or engineering applications, where the user group is primarily the employees or technical staff, a user study may work much better. This is because, there is not too much variance in the target user roles or any complicated workflow to deal with. Hence, persona creation is really not that relevant.
So, while there is no doubt about the benefits of creating personas to drive user experience, organizations need to be careful about the amount of time and effort invested in the entire exercise. After all, personas are enablers and not the end result required. Also, in certain situations, it's sometimes difficult to establish the need for a persona driven UX design, say for a critical program. In such scenarios, the persona exercise should be used judiciously based on the number of target user roles and the complexity of the application being designed.