Book Review: The User Is Always Right
The User Is Always Right: A Practical Guide to Creating and Using Personas
for the Web<http://www.amazon.com/User-Always-Right-Practical-Creating/dp/0321434536>,
Steve Mulder and Ziv Yaar.
This comprehensive guide approaches user experience research like never
before, and is *well-written, easy-to-read*, and *quite user friendly*. It
provides real-world examples of how user research is done in just enough
detail that it can both inform an executive of the role of usability
research as well as introduce methodology for persona creation to someone
starting out in user experience design.* *
*"**You are not the user." *
As an interaction designer and information architect for the past 12 years,
I have been most drawn towards books that go far beyond principles and
theory to ones I can actually extract from and use their contents for the
praxis of the craft, rather than just reading descriptions of a process.
This is a *great book* that is a blueprint to follow to get it right. It
defines the entire user research and persona creation process and offers
insightful case studies from successful companies that Mulder and Yaar
worked with like Vista Print.
The use of personas has become an increasingly popular technique being used
by the interaction design community to address user needs. Introduced into
the mainstream in 1999 in *The Inmates Are Running The
*, personas have gained momentum in both the software and website
designcommunities, but still faces hurdles.
What are the benefits of personas?
A key aspect to any practitioner responsible for bringing real user centered
design to an organization's product design process, being able to evangelize
the importance of user research and persona creation is absolutely key. Many
IxDers <http://gamma.ixda.org/>on this list understand the importance of
persona creation, but lack the arguments to persuade management to both fund
user research and persona creation, and to incorporate real users into the
design process. This is where the book is particular important – selling
proper user research and persona creation to upper management constrained by
resources and deadlines. According to Mulder and Yaar, personas bring many
benefits, including these:
- Users' goals, behaviors and attitudes become a common point of focus
for the team. (They keep repeating this mantra until I found myself chanting
it in the shower)
- The team can concentrate on designing for a manageable set of
personas knowing that they represent the needs of many users.
- By always asking, "Would Will use this?" the team can avoid the trap
of building what users ask for rather than what they will actually use, or
the problem which is far more pernicious – building features that a product
champion thinks are important.
- Design efforts can be prioritized based on the personas.
- Disagreements over design decisions can be sorted out by referring
back to the personas.
- Designs can be constantly evaluated against the personas, getting
better designs into usability testing.
*What is a persona anyway??*
We should all know this, but for new people on the list, a persona is a
fictional person that the team creates to reflect what is know about one of
the key audience groups (sometimes that knowledge is gained from interviews,
focus groups, or surveys). Typically, a team creates two or more personas to
represent different user segments, while identifying a few key archetypes as
the primary personas.*
*Helpful persona profiles include demographic information, levels of
computer expertise, descriptions of the personas' needs for the particular
site in development, and the goals and tasks they would have in mind when
using the site.
The User Is Always
you through each step of persona creation, including tips for
conducting qualitative user research, new ways to apply quantitative
research (such as surveys) to persona creation, various methods for
generating persona segmentation, and proven techniques for making personas
realistic. You'll also learn how to use personas effectively, from directing
overall business strategy and prioritizing features and content to making
detailed decisions about information architecture, content, and design.
What characteristics are included in a persona?
Some of the information Mulder and Yaar say a persona usually includes:
- a name and picture
- demographics (age, education, ethnicity, family status)
- job title and major responsibilities
- goals and tasks in relation to your product/web site/application
- environment (physical, social, technological)
- a quote that sums up what matters most to the persona with relevance
for your site
- A narrative that brings the persona to life
The User Is Always
an entertaining and clearly written book that is also filled with
insight into the process, both qualitative, and quantitative, of creating
user personas based on real research and how that can help interaction
designers, product designers, and other user experience professionals make
more usable and useful software. There are also extensive samples and
examples throughout the book of real personas, actual user research data,
and analysis spreadsheets. These give a very clear idea of how the
recommended approaches work in practice.
For the first time (as far as I'm aware), this brings together two very
different approaches: qualitative research based on interviews and
observation; and quantitative research based on surveys and usage data. The
authors' overall methodology provides real answers on when to use field
research, when to conduct surveys, and how to combine the two sets of
results. The end product are personas that have much greater rigueur and
*What's in the book:*
*Part 1: Introducing Personas*
Chapter 1. Putting the User Back in User-Centered Design
Chapter 2. Meet the Personas
*Part 2: Creating Personas*
Chapter 3. Approaches to Creating Personas
Chapter 4. Conducting Qualitative User Research
Chapter 5. Conducting Quantitative User Research
Chapter 6. Generating Persona Segmentation
Chapter 7. Making Personas Real
*Part 3: Using Personas*
Chapter 8. Keeping Personas Alive
Chapter 9. Directing Business Strategy
Chapter 10. Scoping Features and Functionality
Chapter 11. Guiding Structure, Content, and Design
Chapter 12. Measuring Success
In summary, this is a must-have book for people on the IxDA
<http://gamma.ixda.org/>list tackling the design of complex sites,
applications or devices, or for user-centered designers seeking more
rigorous methodologies when creating personas. I cannot recommend this book
too highly. Once you have finished this book; have a little user research
and persona creation under your belt – you are ready for Mike Kunievsky's
brilliant tomb: Observing the User Experience: A Practitioner's Guide to
I will write a book review of this in the coming months for the
so that while we all focus on going out and actually working our craft, we
do so in the context of, as Dave Malouf says, our Community of Practice.
*About the authors:*
*Steve Mulder* is principal consultant at Molecular, an Internet consulting
firm in Boston, and an internationally known speaker recognized for his work
with personas. He's a user experience expert who practices what he preaches,
with over ten years of experience in user research, information
architecture, interaction design, and usability. Learn more at
*Ziv Yaar* is the vice president of Internet strategy at Molecular, where he
has spent over ten years helping companies develop technology and business
strategies and has been at the forefront of merging the power of marketing
analytics with personas.
n: will evans
t: user experience architect
e: wkevans4 at gmail.com