Aug. 23, 2018 | InBrief

Using customer personas to drive human-centered design

Using customer personas to drive human-centered design

Too often, businesses make important decisions from an inside/out perspective; only thinking about what is important to the business but forgetting about the needs of their customers. How can organizations design something if they do not know who they are designing it for? Whether it is an in-store experience, a new technology, or a process for communicating with customers, businesses need to know the “who” and “why” before focusing on the “how” or “what.”

Customer research is a critical component in human-centered design, and businesses need to put the people they serve at the center of their design process. How do they do this? One answer is to develop personas that represent their customers. Personas depict the attitudes, behaviors, and motivations of customers. Unlike traditional marketing segments which focus on demographic attributes, personas focus on how customers think and why they do or think the way they do. There are several forms of customer research that will help inform, but also complement, customer personas: journey maps, interviews, surveys, analytics, etc. The list goes on and on. Ultimately, organizations should use customer information – both qualitative and quantitative – to create a cohesion of understanding before looking to solve for a need.

Veteran UX researcher Nate Bolt said in an interview that design without research is “like getting into a taxi and just saying ‘drive’.” However, according to Forrester, only 16% of firms regularly do this type of upfront research.

Why does this happen? Why do companies neglect the research that is required to actually drive user-experience innovation, and enable design with the user in mind? One UX professional in the insurance industry was quoted saying, “We define projects and budgets first, and then determine what we actually are trying to improve. We don’t use data or insight into people’s needs to drive scope and priorities.”

It’s important to understand that personas are representative of many customers and they group profiles together of customers who share similar needs, wants, and behaviors. While one persona group might have certain needs, or illustrate certain behaviors, it is essential to remember that some of these things may overlap across personas. When we develop personas for clients, we utilize customer research and analytics to understand what is important to a certain persona.

Once a business is confident they know who they are designing for, they should keep those personas at the center of their design process, ensuring they reference those personas before making design decisions. Some companies print personas out on posters and hang them in the office space where their project team works – keeping them top of mind throughout the project. So next time your company decides to jump immediately to a solution on a project, try to pause and refocus on the end-user – keeping in mind what matters most to them, not the business.

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