How Personas Help Charities Create Better Apps & Services

Persona GroupPicture this.

You’re a charity with a good understanding of your service users. You know how they tend to behave and what they need. On top of this you have a great idea for a new website that will help them even more. So you ask your users what they want, find a local web developer, get everyone together and tell the developer what you want the website to do. The developer goes away, designs a site based on what you’ve told them and delivers it to you a month later.

The website does exactly what you think you wanted it to do. Ace.

But three months later its not getting any traffic and your users are telling you that it’s a good idea but its got the wrong features and doesn’t help them.

If you’re a designer you’ll probably look at this process and ask “where was the design work?”

Well, there wasn’t any.

Understanding Your Users Does Not Always Equal Better Design

Understanding your users is one thing. But this understanding needs translating, exploring and challenging in the context of the new website, app or service you’re planning. This is a prerequisite for effective design.

If you don’t do this then your new site or service will probably fail to meet people’s needs. It’ll either completely flop or crawl along relying on the passion and commitment of your apologetic staff to make up for it.

Personas stop this happening. They help your designers understand your users, the context of their wants and problems and what they might need to solve them. They also help you challenge your own assumptions (internal bias) and understand how users might interact or experience the new site or service. Doing this can save a lot of heartache later on.

Personas Are Unknown In The Third Sector

Personas are rather underused within the third sector but very common in the field of product and service design. However, interaction between the two sectors is increasing, especially through app development. Whether its while creating apps or designing new services, charities and social enterprises are understanding the value of personas and how easy they are to use and create.

But What Are They?

Persona - BenPersonas are “not real people or average users but user models described in detail to have the key attributes, needs, values, lifestyle, culture and personal background of the group they represent” (Giulia Piu).

Personas fit into a particular target demographic or service user group but are not stereotypes. Rather they are user archetypes; descriptions of real people with backgrounds, goals, and values.

They are also quick and inexpensive to create.

Why Do They Work?

Personas work because they facilitate much deeper discussion between users, professionals and designers than can be achieved just by talking about the research, proposing solutions or running focus groups. They create a shared and consistent understanding of user needs and behaviours that can be used throughout the design process.

They put everyone in a user’s shoes and enable you to collectively challenge assumptions about what users need and how they might engage with and experience your site or service. In this way your proposed solutions can be guided by how well they meet the needs of individual personas and features can be prioritised based on how well they address the needs of one or more personas.

In short, personas help you uncover the universal features and service functions needed by your users.

How To Make A Good Persona

Personas can look messy to begin with!

Personas can look messy to begin with!

There’s two main ways to make a persona.

1. Create them out of interview or ethnographic research data. For this it’s crucial that you have got out of the building, talked to your users and understood their needs, stories and characteristics.

2. Create user generated personas through design workshops with users, services and designers. Here the persona provides a medium for users to share their personal experience and implant it in the persona.

However you do it each persona needs to be specific and distinct. As long as you have an understanding of your target demographic and avoid using this knowledge to create average or universally representative personas you should be able to successfully create 3-4 personas.

Start by taking a piece of paper and sketch or stick a photo of your persona in the middle. Give them a name and some personal details.

Then describe them in terms of:

  • Demographics ie age, gender, qualifications
  • Goals and needs
  • Personality, Attitudes and Behavioural Characteristics
  • Culture and Background
  • Skills
  • Relationship with Technology and/or People & Services
  • Fears and Dreams
  • Barriers and/or challenges

There is no definitive list of what should be included so aim to describe any of the above that seem relevant.

Persona Template from DIY Toolkit

Go For Momentum

While you’re describing your persona aim for momentum of activity. If you find you’re pondering or analysing your persona for too long then you’re probably over complicating the process. While it’s important to draw upon research or user experience its also important to open up, identify and get under the skin of your persona. Momentum will help you do this and make it easier to believe in your persona as real rather than fictional.

Once you’ve created your persona you may wish to redraft it into a neater version. You can then use it as the basis for creating user stories, idea story boarding or diving deeper into users’ experience through a user journey.

By the time you’ve done this you will have more empathy for your site or service’s users. You’ll understand their wants and behaviours better, be more able to create something that meets their needs.

The best persona guide and template we’ve found is at DIY Toolkit – click here.