Personas: Usability Testing

By: Aliu A Onifade

A classical usability test involves collecting data and information from situations. Here, representatives from the target user group use the product or a functional prototype of the product. Each of the participating persons performs a given set of tasks with the product. At the same time, design team members observe and record their attitudes and how they complete the assigned tasks.

The goal of usability tests is to evaluate a product about one or more of the basic usability indicators. This is also to gain empirical evidence about whether parts of the product (or parts of its design) needs to be improved.

Introduction

Therefore, in a design or software development project it is very important to have a clear idea about the intended product users. Creating and using Personas can support project members in developing and maintaining a good understanding of future key product users.

A persona is both a concrete personification of a typical user and a textual description. This also lists and presents the main characteristics of the described person. Alan Cooper (2004) introduced the use of personas to the field of human-computer interaction. He introduced this as a method to help design and software development teams to acquire an accurate understanding of the product users and also to support the communication within the team and with other stakeholders.

Thus, the larger design or software development projects are using Personas extensively. While the analysis phase is responsible for creating the Personas, the whole project uses personas throughout the design, implementation, and operation phases. This also supports communication between team members and stakeholders about the characteristics of future product users.

Personas: Usability Testing Description

A usability test often requires extensive planning. However, one needs to develop and define the task carefully before assigning it to the test participants. The selected tasks are normally accompanied with scenarios i.e. verbal or textual descriptions. These scenarios are usually present in each task without telling the participants how to accomplish the task.

Evidently, personas are not real persons, and hence, a persona description does not describe an existing person. Personas are neither fictitious nor based on stereotypes – oversimplified conceptions, images, or ideas of a particular type of person (or thing) that are widely held in society.

While stereotypes are put together from clichés, assumptions, and simplifications about personality traits, a persona can be seen as an archetype –a broad definition that refers to a typical kind of person (or thing) that serves as a general description and is based on empirical facts and knowledge about a group of persons.

The most important distinction between fictitious descriptions (based on stereotypes) and a persona is that the information of a persona is based on information about real persons that is collected and assembled earlier in the project through extensive research and information gathering activities.

In large projects, the development of personas are based on numerous interviews with potential product users, field studies, and other qualitative information gathering techniques (Martin and Hanington, 2012).

The team that is creating the personas usually looks for behavioural patterns, themes, and frequently occurring attitudes that constitute commonalities during information collection. The similarities across the interviewed persons can then be clustered to begin forming aggregate prototypes [3], which then serve as basis for the created personas and persona descriptions.

Benefits of using personas and usability testing:

  • Help to increase the focus on users and their needs.
  • Have direct design influence, such as leading to better design decisions and defining the product’s feature set.
  • Aid in uncovering universal features and functionality.
  • Help team members to develop a common imagination or view of future product users.
  • Serve as a basis for recruitment of participants for usability testing and focus groups, or other activities with user representatives.
  • Provide a common communication platform, or language and support the work across teams in larger organizations.
  • Be useful in the documentation and argumentation for specific solutions and design decisions.

One of the perceived benefits of personas and usability testing is that they give the design team a mental model that allows the team to predict user behavior, and product functionality.

The personas evoke empathy with users and prevent designers from projecting their own needs and desires onto the project. However, many organizations might not yet be ready for using personas.

Summary

Creating and talking about hypothetical users with real names, stories and characteristics may seem unserious and too silly. Some also argue that using made-up users is unscientific. In many organizations, a bit more time is still needed for all involved persons to get accustomed with using personas.

Furthermore, there is a danger that the project team using personas distance themselves from the real users and their needs, quite the contrary to user-centered design methodology.

Bibliography

Cooper, A. (2004): The Inmates are Running the Asylum: Why High-Tech Products Drive Us Crazy and How to Restore the Sanity. Sams-Pearson Education, Indianapolis, IN., U.S.A.

Martin, B. and Hanington, B. (2012): Universal Methods of Design –100 ways to research complex problems, develop innovative ideas, and design effective solutions. Rockport Publishers, Beverly, Mass., U.S.A.

UX Lady, Introduction to user personas: http://www.ux-lady.com/introduction-to-user-personas/. Accessed 12.15.2020

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