Thoughts on product design + user experience

Download an example persona used in the design of a web application

Written by bbb on June 8, 2007

Despite a wide-ranging interest in personas (aka user profiles) by web and software designers, concrete examples of actual personas are surprisingly hard to find. So I’m happy to contribute an example here, from a chapter I wrote in the book User-Centered Design Stories. Click the thumbnails below for full-sized images, or download a printable PDF.

Persona page 1 Persona page 2

Here’s a bit of back story on our persona, Timothy Powell. Timothy is one of three personas I created to inform the design of a web application for a client called… well, the legal hurdles in identifying this particular client weren’t worth the effort, so let’s call them ClickDox. ClickDox had an idea that people would be willing to pay good money for a web application that lets them send and receive confidential documents online, as opposed to sending them by courier (too slow and expensive) or as email attachments (too insecure).

At the time of this project, I was working at Quarry Integrated Communications. ClickDox hired Quarry’s Interaction Design team to craft the user experience of their application, as a few smart people realized that UX was being lost in a frenzy of techno-lust (the project’s sponsors couldn’t wait to build a high-speed data pipeline with secure network centres around the world). We stepped in just as focus groups were underway, and I witnessed dozens of people confirm they were worried about the security of email attachments. Demand for this service seemed high, so the whole team was feeling good.

Our project contacts were committed to doing the right thing, so they followed our advice to augment the focus groups with a quick round of contextual field research. We really hadn’t learned anything about people’s behaviors in the focus groups and suspected we’d miss the mark by designing from our own assumptions. So we pulled together a team of four researchers (two teams of two) and visited 20 potential customers in their offices, where we’d expect them to use ClickDox. We spent about 90 minutes with each person, investigating and observing around these three central questions:

  • What are people’s overall job goals? By understanding what fundamentally motivates people in their jobs, we can design ClickDox’s web application so people feel it contributes to them achieving something important.
  • What’s the context in which they’d use ClickDox? By understanding the many factors that influence people on the job, we can design ClickDox so it feels like it was made just for them.
  • What are their current behaviors around document exchange? By understanding how people get things done today, we can design ClickDox to help them do it better.

If you’ve already read our persona, Timothy Powell, you may get the impression that we uncovered some surprising findings — as indeed we did. Here’s a summary of some main discoveries:

  • People’s behaviors indicated that security was not as important as the focus groups led us to believe. In a textbook example of the difference between what people say and what they actually do, we watched a woman casually send an important document via email — after this same woman had vocally opposed the practice during our focus groups. Further probing across many participants confirmed this general pattern.
  • People’s email client was a central tool in their jobs. To borrow a term from interaction design, its an application with a sovereign posture. It’s always open. Many people used it as a repository of project correspondence.
  • Everyone was struggling with large files that exceeded the size limit of their mail servers. In those situations, they were forced into using alternative methods online or they printed and shipped their documents via courier.

This was quite a wake-up call for ClickDox, whose intention had been to build a website where people would pay to upload and download documents securely. As a result of our findings, ClickDox changed their strategy significantly. The website would become a secondary resource, with most effort going into the development of a plug-in for major email applications. And although ClickDox would offer lock-tight security, the product would initially be marketed for the ease with which you could send large files. Beyond this impact on overall strategy, the details we’d learned about people’s goals, context, and behaviors contributed a great deal during the course of design.

I’ve included a few excerpts here from my chapter in User-Centered Design Stories, where you’ll find this case study presented in detail. Thanks to Elsevier for permission to reprint these excerpts, as they own the copyright. Speaking of which, here’s the obligatory notice:

This work excerpted from a chapter in the book User-Centered Design Stories: Real-World UCD Case Studies by Carol Righi and Janice James, published by Morgan Kaufmann. Copyright ©2006 Elsevier. All rights reserved.

A tip of the hat to Quarry Integrated Communications, who continues to do great work on the development and application of personas to both design and marketing. You’ll find other interesting downloads on their website, including personas from a different client project and excerpts from a chapter I contributed to The Persona Lifecycle about the relationship of personas to marketing.