Get to Know Your Audience through Personas and Scenarios

Author: Kevin Moe
Date: November 15, 2013

The number one rule of writing in any context is “consider your audience.” In web writing, you want to make sure you are providing the content that your viewer needs in order to complete some task. One of the best ways to know your audience in these instances is to craft your own. For the most part, you have an idea of the demographic characteristics of your target audience. It is an easy step from this to create a sample user, also known as a persona.

A persona is a biographical sketch of a typical user of your site. It can be as long or as short as you wish, but the more detailed it is, the easier it will be for you to picture this person and understand what his or her drives and motivations are. You will want to add in detail that at first doesn’t seem relevant to your site at all, such as family life, hobbies, and other background information. As you design your site, you can recall these facts to better gauge your person’s time needs, attention to detail, and other characteristics that will help you streamline your site to his or her needs.

Here are some examples of personas:

Mike is a 35-year-old man who lives in an apartment in a major metropolitan area. He prefers city living to the suburbs as he feels he is more cosmopolitan in nature. He is a staunch believer in multiculturalism and contributes to many social causes – some with monetary donations and some with his time. He volunteers at a soup kitchen one weekend a month. He is married and has no children or pets. His wife works as a night nurse at a local hospital. His job is as a marketing manager at an area non-profit that specializes in housing for the homeless. In his spare time, he likes to visit areas bookstores and listen to MPR.

Betty is 25 years old and is newly out of college, where she received a degree in architectural design. She lived at home while going to school as her parents’ house was not too far from the college. She is still living at home at the present, but is anxious to find a full-time job and get her own place. For now, she is taking extra hours at a retail store which she worked at while attending class. She enjoys cooking and going to an area gym. She is not seeing anyone right now, but she has a tight circle of college friends who she hangs out with at least once a week.

Once you have your personas sketched out, you next need to develop scenarios, or the reasons these people are visiting your site. Understanding the tasks these people are seeking to do will help you create and organize your site in a user-centered manner.

Here are some examples of scenarios based on the given personas for reasons why they might check out this blog:

Mike has been charged with updating his non-profit company’s website. Because the company is small, it doesn’t have much of a budget to contract out the design work. Mike is looking to compile information for best practices in information design and he hopes to be able to find them all in one location without having to do a lot of searching all over the internet. He doesn’t have a lot of spare time and needs something easy to grasp as he is not confident in web design.

Betty is looking to create an online portfolio of her architectural design work to attract potential employers. She is looking to find information on how to best portray her work using professional-looking information design standards. She is confident on her computer abilities – much of her classwork took place in the digital realm. Her real need is how to present her work in the most user-friendly was possible.

Using personas and scenarios like these will go a long way in helping you “consider the audience” of your website.

Here are some sites with more information on personas and scenarios:

What are use scenarios and personas?

Introduction to building and using personas and scenarios

Using personas and scenarios in web design

Why personas and scenarios result in great design

How to design a persona-centric website experience


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