User Experience Deliverables Using the Scientific Method — Personas

Previously, I talked about the scientific method in User Experience. As promised, I will start exploring deliverables that are created using the scientific method in UX, starting with background research.

To be clear, I’m not saying that the entire process of creating an engaging user experience is science. I am saying that we can use science to make better decisions, and learn from our mistakes.

Usually, the business or stakeholder comes to user experience professionals with a question. Sometimes that question may be disguised as a demand.

Armed with a question, it’s time to do background research. A blank piece of paper can be a daunting place to begin. It is easier to start when you have something to aim for. The persona is a great place to start.

What is a Persona?

A persona is an amalgamation of intended (or current) users of a product. This amalgamation is distilled in to an easily digestible template.

Persona templates are a measuring stick for design decisions, the center of design discussion and a reference in reviews.

Personas can be used across disciplines, such as marketing, design or strategy. Personas are a communication tool to allow “the user” to become less abstract.

A persona can easily become the cornerstone of a project, and making one can be a great first step.

Personas First

Personas are a great place to start background research. Personas are a deliverable that involve several different activities that help a user experience professional better understand the intended users and the future product.

Some activities include:

  • Surveys
  • User interviews
  • Stakeholder interviews
  • Focus groups
  • Field studies
  • and more…

By the time a persona is created, the user experience practitioner or team has a deep understanding of the product’s users. Empathy is transferred. Through the activities of creating a persona, UX professionals hear and see the stories from the trenches.

Creating a persona can be a full-scale project or a skunkworks enterprise by someone trying to facilitate change in their organization.

In addition to all of these activities, personas are a stepping stone to more discovery. Armed with personas, a team can begin to construct an optimal customer experience.

Creating Personas

No persona will be the same as another, just like the humans the product will serve. There is no “perfect” persona, so don’t be intimidated to get started.

Creating a persona can be a full-scale project or a skunkworks enterprise by someone trying to facilitate change in their organization.

Persona creation follows three basic steps.

  1. Collect Information
  2. Identify Patterns
  3. Create Template

Collect Information

Information can come from anywhere. Start by searching for existing information, including:

  • Existing personas
  • Previous usability research
  • Marketing team research
  • Stakeholders knowledge

After gathering as much background information as possible, start primary research. Start broad, then narrow the focus.

Broad reasearch like surveys and focus groups allow researchers to get a sense of typical and extreme users. Surveys are great for getting quantitative results. From survey data, a researcher can pull out the median user and the outliers.

Median users and outliers are a great place to find participants for user interviews, field observation or diary studies.

Find Patterns

Even a small amount of research can illicit large amounts of data. Only a few users are necessary to start seeing patterns.

Patterns can be big or small. Make note of anything that jumps out. For example:

  • All users may be loyal to a certain brand
  • They live in a certain climate
  • Everyone eats fruitcake

Nothing is incosequential at this point. Find the similarities.

Create Template

Creating a template can be the most difficult part of the process. It is another blank page that needs to be filled. There are several sources of inspiration to get you started.

The template can vary, depending on the project, scope and needs of the user. Some baseline information should be included, though:

Name
Make sure the name is realistic and believable.

Narrative / Bio
The narrative is the most important part of the bio and can be communicated in several different ways. When writing the narrative, keep these rules in mind:

  • summarize descriptions of all significant behavior patterns
  • do not include excessive fictional descriptions. Include just enough detail to cover basic demographics and to weave the behavior patterns into a story. Save the wit for the presentation.
  • do not add levels of detail to your behavioral descriptions that you did not observe
  • do not introduce solutions into your persona narrative. Rather, highlight pain points

Realistic Photo
Try to find a candid photo that doesn’t look touched up or staged. The photo should be representative of the target demographic and the users that the persona is modeled after.

Experience Goals
Experience goals are probably the hardest element to dig up during research. As a researching, you are listening for the motivation and desired outcome, not necisarily the solutions that the user giving.

Expertise with the product, industry and/or technology
This information will help those that user the persona understand the user’s limitations, strengths and touchpoints with the brand or product.

Conclusion

The amount of time and resources allotted to persona development can very wildly. However, this process can be used regardless of scope. Time and resources merely determine the depth of the research.

In any case, the end product will always turn out better if the teams begins and ends with the user in mind. Experience professionals may not have permission to create personas, but can always start small and ask forgiveness.


Further Reading

About Face by Alan Cooper — If you are looking for more information on personas (or goal-directed design in general), I highly recommend it.

Lean UX by Jeff Gothelf — A great resource for bootstrapping personas.

All You Can Learn by UIE — Talks and webinars from leading UX experts

Image by Nicolas Nova

WordPress Tip: Localizing JavaScript

Localizing JavaScript in WordPress may make your life easier. It is a secret weapon to allow any WordPress data to be consumed by JavaScript as an object.

It can be done in a few steps.

  1. Register you script like you normally would
  2. Localize JavaScript
  3. Enqueue script

Let’s break it down.

Register Script

wp_register_script( 'my_script', 'path/to/myscript.js' );

This is pretty familiar, if you have developed themes in the past. Just don’t enqueue your script just yet.

Localizing JavaScript

This is the fun part.

function doSomethingAwesome()
{
  //do whatever you want
}

$stuff_you_need_in_javascript = array(
  'some stuff in wordpress' => doSomethingAwesome(),
  'a_value' => '10'
);
wp_localize_script( 'my_script', 'awesome_stuff', $stuff_you_need_in_javascript );

With the array that is defined in $stuff_you_need_in_javascript, you are passing in objects that are accessible through JavaScript. So, in your theme’s javascript, you could do something like this:

alert( awesome_stuff.a_value); // alerts '10'

The best part: doSomethingAwesome(); can be anything you want. You can run through wordpress loops, grab something from the database, etc. Literally, anything you want.

Enqueue Script

// Enqueued script with localized data.
wp_enqueue_script( 'my_script' );

Now that you have made WordPress data available to the front-end of your page, you can enqueue your script.

How awesome is that?! Now, go! Use your new found power to build great things.

Science in User Experience

The scientific method is useful. It’s useful in the digital world, too. So, why does the method get ignored in the heat of a discussion or review?

There’s a lot to be said about getting data wrong, but that doesn’t mean all data is evil. When UX professionals understand a user’s goals, some metrics for success become inherently clear.

In a recent client meeting, I had a client say “The content is too long, the user will not scroll. They will get finger fatigue.” When you hear that, it’s hard not to react.

The content is too long, the user will not scroll.
–A Client

My internal response probably sounded something like this:

Is there a prophet that has proclaimed the end of scrolling as we know it? Is it really true that users despise scrolling and — in fact — won’t scroll at all? Does the thought of scrolling give a user “finger fatigue”.1

This prophet needs to choke on his own Kool-Aid! Why would the digital fairing populous abandon the habits that have helped them consume excessive amounts of content at break-neck speeds over the last decade?

What would a response like that really solve, though? One opinion over another doesn’t really push the conversation forward. Besides, the client is writing the check, so isn’t his opinion king?

Bring facts to the table.

Gut reactions and the desire to sell an idea as the best idea can lead to mediocre product design at best. User Experience professionals tackle problems with passion and empathy, and balance that passion with insight.

User experience strategy, product development and the scientific method can live in harmony. And here’s the best part: Sometimes the work is already done!

For scrolling, there has been some extensive testing. Referencing an article like this can completely change the dynamic of the conversion. The dialog becomes more about results. The tone of the meeting is less argumentative.

Armed with a hypothesis and data collected by testing or though another source, the user experience professional is able to shine. Even the best data requires analysis and interpretation. UX practitioners help stakeholders glean insight from research.

All along the way — when creating conjecture, predicting the outcome, testing the consequences and analyzing the results — user experience is no longer an industry buzzword where ideas are the sole currency in the conversation. Data and the ability to analyze the variables brings clarity to the problems at hand, and it is that analysis that user experience professionals can bring to the table.

Each step in the scientific method brings unique deliverables. Over the next few weeks, I will explore what this process looks like, and what deliverables will help stakeholders make more informed decisons.

In the mean time, approach problems with a dash of humility. Validating hypotheses is the best way to keep egos in check and find out what actually works, not what stakeholders and designers think works.

1 Yes, a client actually said that, and I’ve never heard of “finger fatigue” before.

Why Product Development the “Steve Jobs” Way Doesn’t Work

Steve Jobs was a genius. There is no denying that.

I’m here to talk about the rationale  behind  foregoing user testing because “users don’t know what they want.” Many point point to Steve Jobs as “Exhibit A” for not listening to users.

Jobs had an amazing vision — a vision for what seemed impossible. “I want to get to any song in three clicks,” said Jobs.

It sounds like an edict from Mt. Sinanai. And from that edict came the iconic click wheel and the iPod.

That’s great, but you know what is missing from that story? Building the vision. Steve Jobs didn’t build the iPod, Mac or iPhone. He set a vision. A team of extraordinary people set out to build that vision.

Developing products using the methods of a visionary will lead to failure. Builders need to listen to builders. Instead of citing the genius of Jobs as the key to product development, why don’t we look to those who bring the vision to life?

The creators of the iPod tried several different things. They figured out what worked and what didn’t. How can you validate what works unless someone’s thumbs were touching the product?

Build. Validate. Iterate. That’s what builders do.

Technology’s Place

In my mind, technology isn’t the pursuit of gaining more attention from the users of our products. To me, technology is about allowing people to give their attention to the things they care about most – and usually they aren’t like me. People don’t like poking away at a screen. They want to attend to other things. Our products should help people do that.

The Future of a Card-based Interface

I recently read an article that talks about the concept of a notification-oriented approach to application development.

If you don’t want to read the whole thing, let me give you the two main points:

  1. We will no longer need to open up apps to see what’s new or to act on that information.
  2. These actionable notifications and content will be facilitated via cards.

The idea of platforms, services and how it relates to the end user has excited me for a while.

I agree that cards are a great way to bring together disparate information, make it scannable and do it in a way that makes sense to the user. In fact, I have used this card-based approach in a couple of my more recent projects. It is a great intermediate step, but I would argue that this vision is a  bit short-sighted.

Are cards useful on a global or OS scale? Should I use cards for ALL of my notifications and apps?

When I think of these cards, I think of the days of the datebook, or the PDA. It is a place where you get to keep all or your information, but you need to continually look to stay up to date.

A list of cards creates this same problem. I get a list of cards, but I need to sort through them to see if there is anything actionable or interesting. Sure, these cards may be sorted by the priority that my personal algorithm thinks I need, but they are ALL still there, in a pile, waiting for me.

Seems pretty cumbersome to me. All of a sudden, a list of apps on a screen doesn’t seem so bad. At least I can see all of my notifications at a glance and pick the ones I want to know about.

There’s A Place For Cards

In fact, Google gives us some compelling uses for cards. And like I said, there are some great uses for cards that I have used as well. As great as these cards can be, this isn’t the future I want.

I don’t need to be inundated with more reasons to look at my devices. Neither do you. What we need is a system that can give us the information we need, when we need it, in the way we need it.

I know this is a tall order, but can we at least give this some thought.

Let’s allow technology to do more work for us. We want our focus elsewhere. Let’s talk about the day we see a true virtual assistant.

A True Virtual Assistant

I believe the day is coming when we don’t need to give explicit input to get something back. Why do I need to ask Siri when my next appointment is? Why doesn’t she just let me know. Why do I need to “check” the sports score. Can’t Google keep me up to speed on the “important” stuff?

Enter a true virtual assistant. Imagine, talking with your coworker at your desk about a meeting that you need to set up. Your phone is nearby an picks up the conversation. After the convo is over and you are back at your desk (after the extended coffee break), your computer lights up. After all, it is rude to talk. It confirms the appointment with your coworker for next week. This assistant knows that you like coffee so it set the location for your favorite coffee shop.

Sure, this scenario may sound a little creepy. But, hey, people are listening anyway. Why don’t we at least use the data for our personal gain as well.

The technology that I just described is already here. The market may not be ready for it yet, but it is possible.

So why are we still talking about the continued need to look at our devices? We should be talking about how we can get our devices to do more for us so that we can use that extra bandwidth to do our best at the things that matter most.

The Relationships of Discovery

Discovery is part of the adventure of life.

With the intrinsic value in discovering new things, why is it so difficult to facilitate discovery in the digital world?

Curators of the internet build machines that put everything in neat little categories, packaged perfectly for another machine (Google) to read it. Meta-data is added so that a search engine can present things to the user when he/she is searching for them.

But what about the times we aren’t searching for anything specific?

I’m thinking of the last time I was at Target with my wife. She wanted to shop for clothes. To entertain myself I headed to the electronics section. I had no specific goal. No list. So, how did I end up leaving with that expansion pack of The Sims 3 very non-geeky something.

Sure, there is something to be said about the psychology of impulse buying, but in order to buy one must first discover.

When focusing on discovering something, the relationship(s) to the things someone is discovering are important. Items may not be categorically similar, but somewhere along the line, the connection was made.

Helping build these relationships and allowing the user to discover things is no easy task. It is more than simply connecting similar items.

There are some website that do this extremely well: Medium, Ted or YouTube for example.

I think Medium does a great job at encouraging discovery because they bring in the human element. Medium uses what others are saying and what they are reading to help someone get lost in “just one more article”. The suggestions aren’t based solely on a tagging system. Human interests are not contained in neat little categories. The recommendations that help us discover new content shouldn’t be, either.

All of that being said: Separate interfaces for each piece of data or category is not conducive to discovering something new. It is my desire to see creators of digital products continue to design serendipitous experiences in their digital products.

Let’s keep asking: How do we enhance the human element of our products?

UX is NOT a Feature Set

I have been reading a few articles that critique web sites from a UX perspective. This is a great exercise and I thought I could learn something. However, I started to realize something: these articles pointed out a lack of features as poor UX.

Target Markets

I would probably think a little differently if the authors talked about the market for these apps. Instead, the articles were first person. “I think” has no place in an app that you will never use.

A lack of features may create a poor experience for someone, but that doesn’t mean the experience itself was subpar. It means that the user may not be the target market. Sometimes, the best thing an app can do is leave out some features that everyone thinks is necessary — especially when that “everyone” is not the person the app was designed for.

Trim the Unnecessary

The best apps take the essence of a problem and create a solution. Take everything away except what solves the problem. Everything else is waste. Feature after feature will not help you solve a problem if you are asking the wrong questions.

Using Positive User Feedback to Improve Your Product

Over the past week, I have been sorting through user feedback our team has received from user testing. The goal is to refine the app we are working on, making it easier to use and understand. I keep an Evernote notebook handy with all of the notes from user tests. This feedback is given by people who can articulate what they love or hate and how this app makes them feel.

All of this information is insanely useful, but only if you know what to do with it. I want what any good UX Designer wants – to make a product people love and use.  “It’s obvious,” I thought. “The best way to make something lovable is get rid of everything people hate. Right?”

Wrong!

Sometimes, negative user feedback is someone saying, “Give me more of what I love.” They simply don’t know how to say it. Of all feedback that we get, it is natural pay attention to the bad more than the good. It’s human nature. We want to improve. It is reasonable to assume we can improve by listening to negative feedback and fix the app. As true as this is, let’s take a moment and learn from the good.

Learning from Good User Feedback

I started to refine the product I’m working on by magnifying the things people love. As a result, some of the negative feedback has solved itself. The app is now more focused than ever and we have not sacrificed anything that people have missed. We’ve added a thing or two as well. The results have been amazing.

Why the positive?

After watching Kathy Sierra’s talk on creating the minimum badass user, I started to think about what we can do to make people feel awesome. If you want to know how to make people feel awesome, doesn’t it make sense to listen to what they love and why they love it? They are telling us what makes them feel awesome.

Listen to the positive feedback. Amplify what people love. Make them feel more awesome. Do this over and over. Eventually, you have a great product that makes millions of people awesome at the thing your product does.

Translating the Positive to Action

It may be difficult to translate “I love this thing” to the next design decision, but it is possible. An example might be helpful:

Organizing Categories

Category Sketch
A sketch of the original list of categories

I was trying to make a list of categories as simple as possible. Flat, fast, easy to scroll through. It made navigating through all of the items quick and easy.

I knew that people would want to edit their categories. To hide some of the complexity, I thought this was best solved in settings. People wouldn’t be doing it that often.

When people found the edit categories section, they made simple comments in passing. “I really like this,” or “I’m glad I can edit these.”

Once users saw the edit categories screen, they were excited that they could take ownership of this list. No one had anything bad to say. We were ready to move on.

However, in the spirit of amplifying what people loved, I thought it would be a good idea to take the joy of editing the categories and make it part of the original list.

Users had the ability to reorder, rename and delete categories from here.
Sketch of editing categories. Users had the ability to reorder, rename and delete categories from here.

Sure, the original list is now a little more complicated, but it worked! Now, people can take ownership of this list of categories without hunting for a place to do it. They feel more in control and more awesome!

What about negative feedback?

We don’t like anyone saying bad things about us. Our egos can get in the way. We decide to fix problems by pleasing the naysayers. It is easy to convert a list of negative comments to a list of features to add or things to fix. When we do this, we miss what makes people feel awesome.

When listening to the negative feedback we need to listen for what people are actually saying. People want to feel empowered. They want to feel awesome. If we don’t give people that, then they will complain, but not in ways that are useful.

Listen to the negative user feedback in light of the praise. Challenge yourself to combine what people love with what they want. If we amplify what people love, chances are we will also give them what they want. If we listen to how we make people awesome and capitalize on that, maybe some of the critics will become fans because we are making them awesome, too.

Listen to the positive, and make sure to magnify what’s working. Your users will thank you for it.