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UX Science: User Personas

An in-depth look at user personas and why they are pivotal to the design and development of any product. (Part of our UX Science article series).

In a previous article, we shared about the basic structure of a scientific approach to UX. The next step in the process is forming a hypothesis. In UX speak, that translates to Personas and User Stories.

Getting to Know You… (The Melewi Way)

We’ve been lucky that most of our clients have had a clear idea of their product and target market when they approach us. There is always a buyer profile for us to build on – i.e. a set of characteristics describing existing or potential customers who buy, or will buy the product we are tasked to develop.

This is crucial because business viability is pivotal to the design and development of any product; imaginary customers mean imaginary users, means imaginary success.

UX Research helps us to get real about our users and their experiences. Specifically, Personas are hypotheses informed by our research. They capture the partly rational and mostly irrational aspects of the users’ behaviors. The purpose of Personas is to inspire empathy which is the key to understanding irrational responses.

At MELEWI, our aim is to use Personas (and User Stories) to inform all our design decisions – be it at the level of business strategy or visual design.

In fact, to encourage User-centricity from early on in the project, at the start of every project, we hypothesize the Personas in collaboration with our clients during our UX workshop.

The MELEWI User Persona Template

All our Personas start life as a template. The template contains a few basic categories that help to turn the stats of a broad market into something you can empathize with.

We start with the name and the picture, the cornerstones of personal identity.

Goals tell us what our users want to achieve in life – which, in turn, is what motivates them, often inspiring irrational or counter-intuitive behaviors.

Tech-savviness gives us a target learning curve to design for; and Age often indicates what mode of thinking the user might have depending on their current life phase, the generation they fall under, and the cultural and economic climates they have experienced in life.

Sometimes we record personality traits, as these are also the basis for a lot of irrational behaviors.

Frustrations are what we must fix to improve the user experience, and Quotes are what the User would say if asked to describe themselves in a typical situation relevant to the context.

Lastly, Keywords help to provide a quick summary of a user’s standout personality traits, especially aspects that might heavily affect design decisions. Just think about how you #hashtag an Instagram post. If you could #hashtag your users, what are the 3 traits you would put down?

Mapping It Out

Although Personas may not be usefully tested on their own, combined with User Stories, they can be used to create models of User Experience which can be tested.

At MELEWI, the lowest-fidelity UX models we create are User Journey Maps. The crests and troughs of these maps, representing the User Experience, are strategically designed to better the User Stories of our Personas.

This way, User Personas help us to visualize, predict, and validate our assumptions long before we have even made any wireframes.

And in rare circumstances, when we don’t have the opportunity to test our hypotheses with Users, Personas can serve as proxies in Prototype-Testing. But this is not ideal since validation using User Personas as a proxy is unreliable. It only achieves to postpone true validation till the model acquires higher fidelity i.e. the User Journey Map is turned to wireframes or a clickable prototype or higher.

Keeping It Agile and Lean

We, at MELEWI, strongly believe in keeping things Lean, and business viability is our primary focus. At the same time, our clients look to us to deliver awesome products that offer kickass experiences.

Delivering to such high expectations is achieved by:

  1. Focusing on informing design – When gathering information, we always ask ourselves, “How might the specific context we observed affect my design and business decisions? Therefore what must we capture in the Persona?”
  2. Internalizing observations – True creativity, in all lines of work, is the result of insight; and personal observations are the only source of insight. That’s why we stress the importance of designers performing contextual inquiry. Personas are there to help process information and socialize it, but they will only ever be a shadow compared to the depth of personal observations.
  3. Continuously learning – We never forget that the Personas we develop are our hypotheses, to be updated with each new grain of information we gather from validation and further research. Continuously learning keeps things Agile, Lean, and scientific.

Need help taking your product to the next level?  Drop us a line at hello@melewi.net, and we’ll help you create an intuitive design guaranteed to keep your users coming back!

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