Users Want More Than “Pretty” – Using Personas & Scenarios to Aid Visual Design

So you just put the finishing touches on your new and beautifully designed website. The drop shadows are spot on and the textures look great. It’s truly pixel perfect! But the real question is, is it usable?

This isn’t to say that visual aesthetics are not important, because they are. People would much rather look at something exciting than something bland. And who doesn’t love bright colors and fun typefaces? Visual aesthetics also are also part of usability. What if a colorblind person can’t distinguish those reds and greens you included? What if the contrast is too low for them to read easily?

This is to say, however, that users need to be able to successfully complete their goals when using your website. In the end, what good is a beautiful design if your user can’t accomplish what they came to the website to do? After all, they are the reason you created the website, right?

The point is that we need to be designing for our users and not just designing to make something “pretty.” This is why UX design is so important. Here are few ways that you can incorporate UX into your design process and how these methods can contribute to a better visual design.

An Example Persona*

An Example Persona*

Define Your Target Audience

The absolute first thing you should do is research. There are some initial key things that you need to discover such as:

  • Who is your target audience and who will be using your website?
  • What information do they come to the website to find?
  • What are the most important tasks they want to accomplish on the website?
  • How will visual design influence them on a practical level?

This is a crucial step in the process and really helps determine who you will be creating the website for and what content you should include. There can be a number of steps to this, but for the purposes of this article we will focus on personas and scenarios.

Personas

Once you have defined your target audience, the next logical step is to create personas. These are fictional representations of your users based on your target audience. Personas are important because they help you better understand what your users want to accomplish and how you can adjust your visual design to fit their needs.

A persona would typically outline things such as their demographics, goals, priorities, pain points and overall character. Basically, enough information so you have a decent sense of who they are and what they want to accomplish.

For example, say one of the personas is an older woman with eyesight problems. You could take this persona and apply its principle findings to your visual design by creating larger buttons and larger text for easier readability. Or perhaps one of the personas is of a younger audience. This may give you more flexibility to incorporate fun and bright colors into your visual design without alienating a more mature audience set.

Personas help you identify constraints that your users might face when using your website and interacting with your visual design.

Scenarios

Personas are often paired with scenarios. A scenario is essentially taking your persona and putting them in a situation that they would typically encounter while using whatever it is you are designing.

For example, say you are designing some sort of healthcare website. One persona you may identify might be mothers because they generally oversee the health of their family and make sure everything is in order.

From that persona, you can put that mother in various scenarios such as checking on the future medical appointments for her family. This process not only helps you uncover some of the functional requirements for the persona, but can give you important insight into the context in which they will be looking at your design.

If they are a busy mother, they may for example have the distractions of small children running around while they are on your site, meaning you may need to reduce visual clutter and focus the design hierarchy more heavily on key tasks than you would on a brochure site, for example.

Test, Test, Test!

eyetrackingUsability testing on your visual design can be as simple as sitting down with someone and asking them to complete a task on your website. Eye tracking is a method in which a camera tracks where a user is looking on your website, and whether or not that is where you want them to be looking which can be a great way to test what you’ve come up with – although it can be expensive.

Takeaways

While visual appearance is a major aspect of design, many people forget to think about the way people will interact with what you create, and how design can be used as a tool to help people accomplish their goals more quickly. Some view this initial research as a waste of time, but the real waste is spending time creating something without fully thinking about it or researching it and therefore finding problems when it is too late to easily change.

Your users are the ones that you must create your websites for, and it is crucial that you always keep them in mind. Make it easy for them to accomplish what they come to your website to do and don’t make them think too hard in the process.

*Images courtesy Todd Zaki Warfel & Huasonic

2 thoughts on “Users Want More Than “Pretty” – Using Personas & Scenarios to Aid Visual Design”

  1. Chris Mears says:

    Steve – I think it depends what you mean by designing exactly. If we are talking about visual design then in a more traditional waterfall type approach visual design would typically follow the wireframing stage (which comes after personas/scenarios). However, in a more agile type approach then the ‘designing’ of the interface itself can begin as early as the requirements gathering stage. As you learn more about the users then you can start putting together things such as suggested look and feels for users to feed back on.

    I think having too much of a separation between the stuff the UX designer does and the stuff the visual designer does is a bad thing, along with seeing visual design as purely a separate deliverable. On my projects I tend to work very closely with visual designers coming up with wireframes, prototypes and journeys. It might not always be fully Photoshopped up but they need to have as good an insight into the mind of the user as the UX designer does in my opinion and help feed into the entire ‘design’ process.

  2. Steve says:

    At what point in the process should you actually start designing?

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