In the last few weeks I’ve taken part in a couple of activities that involved the use of ‘personas’.  If you’ve not come across personas before, then they are a made up person, with a name and a personal history, that represent one of your key client groups.  [There's some good information about personas here on the usability.gov website].  Personas image from InquiettudesPersonas are a really a useful service design and usability tool as they allow you to visualise your service through the eyes of one of your users.

Typically your persona would have a name, a photograph (because it makes them easier to relate to), and a back-story: educational background; employment status; personal circumstances; aspirations and motivations; for example.  It’s also good to have things such as whether they use social networking and what sorts of things they are interested in.  Generally you’d also want to try to categorise them with a short phrase that makes it easier to discuss them.  Often you’d create a set of sheets or cards with the details of each persona.

In the two exercises I’ve recently taken part in they have been used to look at two very different stages of the website design process.  Firstly as a demonstration of their value in website design and usability, looking quite specifically at a website to see what elements of a particular page were going to be of use to different personas (and also which elements were not going to be relevant).  To use the personas you have to put yourself in their place and look at your website through their eyes.  So what are they looking for, what is their level of experience or knowledge, for example.  It does throw up some really useful insights into how your website is viewed by users.

In the second exercise, the personas were being used at a much earlier stage of the design process, to help look at priorities for the future direction of the Virtual Learning Environment by thinking about what the attitudes of different personas would be to a set of statements about developments.  That was quite a useful exercise as it allows you to think about how your users and potential users will react to or view things you might develop.  Hopefully it would prevent you contemplating developing services or features that wouldn’t be wanted by users. 

Personas have been used for a while to look at both websites and the VLE at the University.  To an extent they have been created around market segments and with students/potential students as the primary focus, but there are plans to develop others and to make personas much more widely used as a design tool.  So although the ones that exist are of use when planning and developing a library website, there are a few missing for our purposes as we’ve also got staff and researchers to consider.

Although it’s now a bit late in our website design process to use personas for the design stages I’m certainly thinking about using them as a tool to check and review the site, and will see whether we can use them much more in future.  A useful tool for website design.

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