Focusing on your website user by developing personas

Is your website organized and designed for your audiences to achieve the results that they want and you need?

Common website Problems

  • Senior staff want something to go on the home page, and then something else and something else and so on...
  • The site looks unorganized and without a clear purpose.
  • Users complain that they can’t find information or that it is buried deep within the bowels of the site and it takes forever to find it or it is impossible to remember where it is;
  • Users phone staff to be sent the information or to be given a direct link or step by step directions - taking up their time and yours.

Both these problems are being experienced not only on intranets but also on external websites. The first problem highlights strategy and governance issues and the second problem adds organization (of information architecture) and design issues. Both problems create inefficiencies gobbling up time both for employees and for customers.

First impressions count

Your website is being judged within 50 milliseconds with visitors sustaining their first impressions by seeking out ways to prove themselves right (that is, if they like it they look for evidence they should like it, if they don’t like it they confirm why and leave). Read Making and sustaining a good first impression for more information.


The risk in creating a bad impression can’t be understated – if the site is outdated, poorly designed and disorganized visitors will leave with the impression that the organization isn’t current, professional or efficient and that will hit you where it counts – your bottom line.


You may have heard of a user-centric approach to information architecture and design but if you take that up a notch you have a persona approach.

What are Personas?

Personas are representative of larger groups with detailed attributes to enable a focused approach to usability and design.

  • Personas are representatives, defined with “significant rigor and precision”, and built on a combination of assumptive reasoning and data, which allows for focussing requirements.
  • Personas also align the project team and clarify how to focus the requirements.


How they work

“To create a product that must satisfy a broad audience of users…you will have far greater success by designing for one single person”.
– Alan Cooper (author of The Inmates are Running the Asylum).

Developing personas allows anyone developing or designing, or for that matter, writing, to focus on a person rather than referencing multiple data points. People respond to people, they are easier to remember than a compilation of data. Also, personas are generative – people can relate to them, understand them, acknowledge the relationship they would have with them or what they are designing, as well as the experience they will have and it can be acknowledge that they will change overtime. This real perspective brings life to the design. Personas help a team focus on important aspects of target users – they simplify the reference points.

Why you’d use them

You should be interested in a Persona Approach if:

  • you are familiar with the concept of personas;
  • if you want a user-centric design with a well rounded focus;
  • if you have:
    • a diverse audience you need to understand
    • a targeted audience you need to understand
    • if you don’t know who your audience is, or if your audience is very broad

How to Develop Personas

Personas are developed through workshops and data collection methods including interviews and focus groups. Assumptions are gathered along with research data and affinity is established with defined categories. Then “skeleton” personas are created and details are added until the personas are built. Then the personas need to be reviewed and a prime persona chosen. The prime persona establishes clarity in prioritizing, as the prime personas needs are those that must be met. Once that is done then the personas need to be used.


How to Use Personas

It needs to be said that anyone involved in the project where personas will be used (be it an IA, Design or even Content) needs to understand them and how they were developed. The personas need to be used as a reference for making decisions – there is no opportunity for senior staff to add something to the home page unless it meets the prime persona’s requirements or is a major factor for one of the other personas. It goes without saying that the personas must be aligned to the site's strategic objectives and goals which in turn should be reflective of the organization's goals. And if the personas were crafted correctly, information will be easier to find.


It is far easier to say to people “that is something Debbie Persona would want” then to quote demographical information and statistics. It is easier to gain consensus once you have your personas as people can more clearly understand what “Debbie Persona’s” requirements are. And when it comes to creating focused, user friendly, and user centric design, personas are a great tool to keep the focus on the user to create something they will like and use – and that means a successful experience for all.

Prescient Digital Media can guide clients in the development and use of personas for both Internets and intranets for creating information architectures, designs and content that focus on the user – and isn’t that where the focus should be?

For more information on Prescient's approach and methodology, please contact us directly to learn how to transform your intranet or website into a high-value employee & business system.

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