Audiences, Outcomes, and Determining User Needs

by Corey Vilhauer

12 Reader Comments

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  1. “Every website needs an audience. And every audience needs a goal.”

    I think this is an error in thinking. PRODUCTS need an audience. PRODUCTS solve a problem. Websites – for the most part are just the storefront or marketing medium.

    I think personas are dangerous to your business and are too frequently used in the wrong place. This creates a host of problems rather than bring message clarification to your target audience.

    I just spent a week on our website, A Better User Experience, arguing against the use of personas for most small businesses.

    Heretical you say?

    Part 1 (Signal Not Stratification): http://bit.ly/wIZdD1
    Part 2:(Be the Bieber): http://bit.ly/yrauRk

    My point is simple: Websites follow established paradigms. They help people buy, sell, consume, share, or return your product or service.

    And we have established paradigms for how to build these mechanisms.

    Personas don’t use checkouts differently. There’s an optimal way to build them.

    What IS unique to different personas are the problems that your product solves.

    Think of it like this.

    I’m a bank. And I want to appeal to three customers: individuals, investors, and businesses. The bank creates different instruments for those personas.

    Then they build a website that fulfills all the needs of those personas.

    And that’s a job well done.

    That’s because personas were brought to the table during product development. Not website building.

    I feel like it’s necessary to point this out because doing it wrong hurts your business.

    Look at the link for Part 2 above. I go thorough an example of a financial software app that got all of their messaging wrong because they appealed to their personas’ differences rather than their common points.

    Ultimately, that’s what I recommend: One strong signal. One clear message.

    If you use personas at the product level, this will be easy to do. If you use personas at the messaging level, in my experience, it’s just muddying the waters.

    -Ben Snyder
    abetteruserexperience.com
    @BUXofficial

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  2. If the person is very much similar to us, you can trust him involuntarily. It is therefore important in the development of the web design to identify the distinctive features of the target audience of the website to speak with it in the same language.

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  3. I agree with @BUXofficial that personas can be extremely useful in product development (and srsly, how many more products without an audience do we need?). But I would argue strongly against the idea that they somehow “muddy the water” when used for web work.

    It’s not just that different audience segments will want different products, but different audience segments may want to learn about the product in different ways. They may each bring different expectations, questions, prior knowledge, level of detail required, etc. This doesn’t mean we build five different shopping carts; this means we consider the experience through each persona’s point of view and make sure the UX we’ve so carefully planned will work for them.

    Anyhow, Corey, thank you for the very thorough and relatable examples of what so often gets truncated, glossed over, or skipped.

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  4. @BUXofficial

    Personas don’t dictate giant changes in established behavior. They instead serve to represent the people we are creating things for. Personas are not perfect. Neither are people. That’s why they’re effective tools.

    That’s the biggest thing: they’re tools. They can be used incorrectly. So can user research. So can established paradigms, actually. (I can simply ape Amazon’s checkout process, but that won’t do me any good if I don’t know how site users respond to the nuances of my client’s product.)

    Good personas are based on real user interviews. They help personify user research. They help us keep in mind the people we’re writing and designing and developing for. They aren’t gods.

    The example website in your second blog post isn’t bad because of the personas. The personas didn’t force the designer or writer to create seven different messages – the designer or writer failed to understand how to synthesize the information the personas offered, which is to say they failed to create any kind of message hierarchy, tone hierarchy, audience hierarchy, etc.

    So I think maybe the real message is, “Understand the role personas play,” not, “Personas are awful and will ruin your work.”

    Personas help us understand that, indeed, different people come to the website looking for different things. They help inform writing and design. You mention Coke in your article, but fail to mention how Coke also has employed different messages for different audiences. There are polar bears, sure. But there are also celebrities. There are jingles. There are sports sponsorships. Each of these messages appeal to a different audience. And it’s the mix of these different messages that makes the brand what it is.

    When a user lands on a website, the goal isn’t for them to see one message. The goal is to see the one message that matters most to them.

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  6. Thanks for writing such a thorough and thought-provoking article.

    Your stakeholder questions really piqued my interest. We facilitate many interactive discussions and activities with our clients in order to engage them and learn from them. I find your Audiences/Outcomes format to be really useful and look forward to applying it!

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  9. “So I think maybe the real message is, ‘Understand the role personas play,’ not, ‘Personas are awful and will ruin your work.’”

    I think you hit the nail on the head there. I thought about that after I wrote my articles… it’s not that personas are bad, it’s just that they’re often misused.

    They do serve a valuable purpose but I think it’s at the product stage and not at the web design stage.

    And I think that’s why I got my hair up against them in the first place – they’re pitched as a tool for UX designers but they’re really not. They’re a tool for product design people.

    Now it’s true that there’s commonality between website goals and business goals but one precedes the other. And you can argue that when taken in the context of an app environment, they are one and the same (and I wouldn’t argue with you)…

    But I have yet to find the case where personas are valuable outside of the product development stage.

    And for what it’s worth, we do a podcast every Monday at abetteruserexperience.com. If you’d be up for it, we’d love to have you on to talk about personas. DM me on Twitter (BUXofficial), contact me on the site, or reply here if you’re interested. It’ll be fun. :)

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  10. @BUXofficial – I’ll get a hold of you on the site and we can talk about podcastin’ it up.

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  11. This is a subject that I’ve always been aware of but never really had the opportunity to get to grips with it properly. Partly due to not currently working with anyone who knows more than me, and also lots of confusing and diverse methods and explanations.

    This article summed an approach up really well for me to understand and absorb. I feel I have a better understanding as to why it is so important when building a site. Definitely something I’m going to take forward and look into more.

    Thanks :)

    Adam

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