This past fall, I joined ILAO as the User Experience Research Coordinator. My first assignment involved getting to know our website users and ultimately creating a set of user personas to help us meet the needs of our users as we completely transformed our websites and online services. User personas are essentially fictional characters that accurately represent major user groups, based on both qualitative and quantitative data. They typically include key demographic and technological information as well as the primary needs, goals, and challenges for each user group. I have detailed primary aspects of a user persona and the research methods that can be used to gather them:
Demographic Profile: This section includes details such as age, location, and education level. These elements provide important background information that may indicate a user group’s preferences and abilities in navigating a website. Some of these items, such as gender and age group, can be easily identified through the use of web analytics. Other details, such as education level and employment status, may not be included in such reports but can be gathered through user surveys.
Technology Use: This section describes a user group’s experience and comfort with technology. It may list any internet-capable devices that users have access to such as smartphones, laptops, and desktop computers. It can also include the operating system and browser for each of these devices. Again, web analytics can identify this information. Perhaps even more important for the purpose of developing user personas, web analytics can also be utilized to identify patterns between demographics and technology use. For example, it can determine the most used browser for each device or the most used device among each age group.
Motivations: This area delves into the needs and priorities of a user group, a.k.a. what are their goals in accessing the website? Thus, this section should also include challenges that the user group may face in accessing, navigating, and understanding the website and its content. This information can be the most difficult to gather, but surveys can be used to ask questions such as how users discovered the website, why they access it, and if their expectations are being met. Surveys also allow for open-ended questions in which users can describe some of the challenges they encounter.
For ILAO, the third aspect is especially significant because our users may visit one of our five websites with different goals in mind. For example, a user who visits IllinoisLegalAid.org may have significantly different motivations than a user who visits IllinoisProBono.org. Since we are consolidating all of our websites into one as part of the tech transformation, the various goals of all of our main user groups will still need to be met. Therefore, the focus of our user personas, both visually and functionally, is on motivations, goals, and challenges. In addition to these aspects and those outlined above, completing user personas with names, pictures, and biographies helps to make them easily recognizable and memorable!