Applying Personas to Enterprise Applications

shutterstock_282680441_350Understanding user needs is a fundamental value proposition for user experience work, and personas are a well-known user experience tool. You might be wondering how practical they are, though, particularly if you are building applications for users within your own organization. But besides helping you learn more about those users, personas can be a great communication tool for the product team in every phase of development.

Align the product team and reveal assumptions.

Personas have to start somewhere. You might already have market research, or user profiles, or even legacy personas to work from. These can be great resources for deciding how many people to interview. If you don’t have that, though, you can start by interviewing the people on the product team who know the most about your users. Get everyone together for a workshop to create “assumption personas.”

Even if you do have some initial user segments to start with, I would still have the workshop, because at the end, you have a group of stakeholders who are all thinking about the differences between users. And, they get the chance to discuss their assumptions with each other. They can also start thinking about which users are most important.

While you validate, you’re building empathy. So what?

The next step is to validate those assumption personas by talking to actual (or representative) users.

Your team might already be intimately familiar with the analytics–the metrics you’re trying to improve. If you’re working on the application, chances are decent it’s because you’re passionate about solving the problem, and you already have some very good ideas about how to do that. But, you’re not your user, in most cases. And having a good idea of what is broken in your business processes is not the same as knowing why the humans who use those processes are having trouble.

During persona interviews, listening to people tell their own stories, you get two major benefits:

  • A healthy appreciation of that person’s point of view. You might think you know why they aren’t doing things right. You will learn something from hearing in their own words about their struggles and concerns.
  • Ideas about which details will matter most to which types of users. It’s the little differences that make daily use of a work tool either seamless or hellish.

This is why besides having personas as a reference document–besides a bullet list of user goals–people on the product team who participate in creating the personas get additional understanding that can’t be fully captured in persona posters and business cards.

Big win for organizations with a variety of users: the ability to prioritize.

Which users are the most important for your project? You know who is sponsoring the project. You know the goals for the project. So, which users will have the most impact on those goals? OK, maybe you know that, too. But what will make them happy? What will help them? Those are the qualitative details you get from sitting down and asking them about their day-to-day experience.

When you map the behaviors, attitudes, and needs of your various personas to your project goals, you can figure out which users to focus on, at a more granular level. You also learn which users pose the biggest risk to those goals.

Make design decisions that favor your priority personas.

Let’s say you have three personas:

  • Brad is your new employee, with relatively little domain knowledge and high expectations for software usability, based on the consumer apps he uses.
  • Julie is your veteran superstar, who uses 80% of the product features and has expert workarounds for known issues.
  • Beverly is your part-time employee, performing the same small subset of administrative tasks.

If you prioritize Brad, here are the types of design principles you might have in order to accommodate him:

  • Terminology: task-based menu and field labels, rather than references to legacy systems. Avoid cryptic abbreviations and codes without descriptions.
  • Layout: group functions together that are used together, even if it means some replacement of legacy code. Prioritize the time and effort it takes to define field and button validation and instructional content.

With your personas, you can also keep your discussions organized when you think about things like:

  • How much flexibility do you need to be with these principles when you need the app to have robust functionality for your expert users?
  • How do the use cases differ across personas?
  • How do the different personas prefer to review content? Scanning a list to compare items? Reviewing records one at a time?

Personas will be useful throughout the product life cycle.

They’ll help you answer questions like:

  • Which groups do you need include when you are eliciting requirements? You’ll want to talk to people based on role segmentation, but also based on personas.
  • Who should help with pilot testing? Perhaps those who are more inclined to be flexible and to provide constructive feedback.
  • Who can be a champion during change management? Or, who might need more focused communication in order to bring them on board?

Just get involved in the workshops and observe the sessions. You’ll be brimming with your own ideas about how to use the information.

Posted in News

89,000 employees and “one curious culture”

I was really intrigued when I heard Eric Quint introduce the scale and scope of his job on a Web Conversation by to an audience from 40 countries. We were there to hear the 3M Company’s Chief Design Officer talk about change management. For those who are not familiar with 3M, their products are found in our offices and homes: Post-it notes, Scotch tapes and Filtrete home air filters to name just a few. The #73 firm in the FT Global 500 (June ’15) has 89,000 employees, 5 business groups, 27 divisions, 46 technologies and “one curious culture” according to Quint.

Quint’s job is vast – building and managing 3M’s global multi-disciplinary design teams in innovation and branding. His background before 3M included leading and managing award-winning teams. So when Quint joined 3M in April 2013 he came prepared and ready to introduce change into a giant corporation with design pedigree, highly recognized brands and a culture of successful innovation through design. The heart of his talk was on just that – being a “catalyst of change” in a well-established organization.

The first steps to changing a design culture – “define a direction”

To get started, Quint’s first initiative was to clearly define a direction. Because he came in “with a fresh view” he started making introductions with top executives across the five business groupCuriouss (“BGs”). He learned what he could about the company and culture to create synergy with colleagues as the new head of design. It also demonstrated he had good intent and it started the process of working together with the heads of the five BGs.  Read the rest of this post »

Business dictates the best, worst times for social media

Social media never sleeps, but it does take a breather once in a while. Usually, those rest periods are determined by our work schedules, not our social engagement, because business shapes social media usage now more than ever.

For example, Facebook, the 800-pound gorilla of social media, emerges from repose as the workday begins and exhibits its heaviest engagement around the lunch hour, when workers are more likely to indulge in non-work diversions. Twitter also hits its stride around the same time. Meanwhile, LinkedIn, a popular place for job-hunting, sees its heaviest traffic either just before or just after the typical workday, because nobody wants to risk leaving digital clues at their current job that they are looking for a new one.

So, mind the clock when shaping your company’s social media networks for optimum outreach. The proper timing for posts and tweets will vary somewhat by industry and by company, naturally, but the platform schedules listed below offer good guidelines in general:


Best time: 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.
Traffic builds after 9 a.m., reaches its peak around 3 p.m.
Worst time: 8 p.m. to 8 a.m.
Traffic fades after 4 p.m. Avoid posting on weekends.


Best time: 1 p.m. to 3 p.m.
Traffic builds after 11 a.m.; peak times are Monday through Thursday.
Worst time: 8 p.m. to 9 a.m.
Traffic fades after 3 p.m. Avoid posting after 3 p.m. on Fridays.


Best times: 7 a.m. to 9 a.m.; 5 p.m. to 6 p.m.
Traffic builds before and after business hours; peak times are Tuesday through Thursday.
Worst time: 10 p.m. to 6 a.m.
Traffic fades from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m., and from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Avoid posting on Mondays, Fridays.


Best time: 9 a.m. to 11 a.m.
Traffic builds after 9 a.m., with the peak time during morning work hours.
Worst time: 6 p.m. to 8 a.m.
Traffic fades after 5 p.m. Avoid posting in the evening.


Best time: 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Traffic builds after 1 p.m., with the peak time between 3 p.m. and 4 p.m. Mondays.
Worst time: 12 a.m. to 7 a.m.
Traffic fades on weekends. Avoid posting on Sunday evenings.


Best times: 2 p.m. to 4 p.m.; 8 p.m. to 1 a.m.
Traffic builds after 12 p.m., with the peak time on Saturday morning.
Worst time: 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.
Traffic fades after 5 p.m. Avoid posting in the late afternoon.

Ad blocking is here to stay, so get used to it

Ad blocking is here to stayMy spouse was pounding on her iPad last night in frustration – rather more frustration than typical with technology – because a news site she helps edit kept crashing the tablet’s web browser.

After a few minutes of listening to her curse, I steeled myself against her wrath (which was causing our dogs to cower) and asked if I could offer assistance. She dialed down her fluster long enough to reload the website and show me the problem. On the screen, the site began to resolve, then it turned gray to highlight an ad window spreading over the center of the page.

The ad opened just long enough to announce a car dealership’s brand before both the ad and the browser behind it vanished, leaving me looking at neat rows of apps on the iPad’s desktop.

“This is just a bunch of …,” my wife said, followed by yet another string of epithets that made me want to join the dogs in hiding. “I need to review the morning story placement, and I can’t even get to the site!”

In separate situations, I witnessed similar exasperation recently from people at a Starbucks, at a mall food court, and in the waiting room of a doctor’s office. Little else sends Americans into paroxysms of agitation quite like the intrusion of advertising into our online reverie. And yet digital publishers express surprise and concern at the latest surge in ad blocking software revealed by PageFair and Adobe Systems, Inc. in “The 2015 Ad Blocking Report,” published this week.

PageFair, headquartered in Ireland, provides solutions to detect and measure ad blockers. Adobe is one of Perficient’s Strategic Partners. The report they produced examines per-country and per-state information on ad-block usage, as well as monthly active user statistics, and it found that – surprise! – web users are ratcheting up their use of ad-blocking software.

In the past year, ad blocker usage rose 41 percent in the United States and 35 percent in Europe to encompass a total of 200 million web users worldwide. In some nations in Europe, the report said, a third of users employed ad-blocking tools. Here, in states such as California, New York, and Oregon, around 15 percent of users regularly blocked web ads.

Those numbers translate into heavy damage on corporate profit margins, the report said. PageFair and Adobe estimate that U.S. firms alone lost almost $6 billion in revenue last year because their digital ad efforts were not reaching intended targets. The loss is likely to climb north of $10 million by the end of 2015.

PageFair and Adobe define ad blocking as any solution that acts like a firewall between web browsers and ad servers. Most ads are blocked or deflected by end users using solutions that target extensions such as “adblock” or “adblock plus.”

Naturally, online marketers are alarmed by all this blocking. It means their carefully crafted sales pitches – intended to supplant the evaporating influence of print publishing – are disappearing into the digital ether.

“(The) existential threat of ad blocking has become a pressing issue in the board rooms of publishers across the world,” the report said. “A concentrated response is required, founded upon a renewed focus on user experience and enabled by secure ad-serving technology.”

The key words here are “user experience,” or UX – the defining element of success in 2015. Connected technology has matured well past the convenience stage to become essential in the livelihoods of consumers as well as companies, but consumers, not companies, are driving this evolution. Proliferate smart technology and social networking have empowered consumers; now, they can choose to engage companies at multiple levels.

If companies hamper this empowerment, or compromise the UX with excessive ads, slower page loading speeds, intrusive auto-play videos, and the surreptitious downloads of uninvited promotions carrying potential privacy threats, the companies risk losing engagement.

And that affects the entire web.

“As technology develops and ad-blocking plug-ins become more commonplace, the growth in ad-blocking usage will receive yet another catalyst,” the PageFair/Adobe report said. “This has the potential to challenge the viability of the web as a platform for the distribution of free, ad-supported content.”

Presently, the web browsers Firefox and Google Chrome are responsible for most end-user ad blocking; however, the mobile market is making strides in this direction. Developers are busy making plug-ins for smartphone web browsers, and Apple’s pending iOS 9 will include support for ad-blocking apps.

The iOS 9 platform is due to release in September. Afterward, we can expect ad-block numbers to soar and more publishers to panic – and I can expect my spouse’s cursing to subside.

“We shape our tools and afterwards our tools shape us.”

Digital DashboardI just read Changing change management shared by David Stallsmith. No doubt digital (interactive media) and the software powering it can be incredibly useful for delivering and managing change within organizations. The descriptive and prescriptive digital examples discussed in the article seem to verify that digital is both positive and transformative when done right. And digital design is bringing enjoyment and enrichment into our work. Even during change it can be useful. But is “it” that transformative? Or, is it the people behind digital and the strategy for using it that is truly transformative? My bet is on people and strategy. Read the rest of this post »

CX and software – consumers lead the experience (part 2)

Part 1 see: “Is software eating the world? Or, is it really customers?”

Software eating our world

In the earlier post I mentioned that more companies are focusing on the opportunities software offers to create customer value through the customer experience (CX). This rising development is a result of the rise in popularity of software, and it is spawning the age of the consumer − consumers are now leading the experience they want to have (i.e., Porter’s Five Forces Analysis, buyer power). I give credit for a chunk of this leverage to software sites such as Twitter, Yelp, Kudzu, TripAdvisor and the like for enabling consumers to socialize their experiences rapidly and easily, and providing leverage to the individual buyer. In our hyper-competitive markets this is putting pressure on companies to look across all customer touch points and evaluate how they measure up, not just looking at their customer satisfaction ratings (the good minus the bad ones) but on the total customer experience and the reasons WHY.

This era of transparency and perfect information is not all bad for businesses. It’s offering them an unprecedented opportunity to learn what attracts customers in the first place and how to satisfy them in the long term, and even retain them for life (i.e., lifetime value of a customer). But where do we start? Read the rest of this post »

Beacons, not iWatch is Where the Enterprise Action Is

Wearables have been in the mobile space news again lately, with the news that iWatch sales have slipped significantly.

However, one of the other facets of mobile space and one that has greater enterprise applicability, Internet of Things (IoT) and in this case, beacons have made a number of quiet but significant advances lately. The IBM/Apple partnership released another round of enterprise apps and one, Safe Site includes iBeacon technology to alert people on the job when they are approaching a hazardous area. More importantly, lost in the din of all the announcements coming out of Google I/O 2015 such as Android M is the release of Eddystone Android/Google’s new framework for supporting Bluetooth low energy (BLE) beacons (I grant you, iBeacons is a sexier/easier to remember name).

Android 4.x supported BLE but in a very limited fashion and Android 5.x improved upon that support but Eddystone is the first effort Google has made to support beacon technology in a significant way. In addition to the base frame format that Apple iBeacon uses, Google has released other frame formats such as a telemetry frame that allows the sending of diagnostic data about the beacon so that its health can be monitored (battery level, etc). Finally, Google has integrated a number of APIs to extend the functionality of beacons. These include the Nearby API and Proximity Beacon API to establish proximity between the beacon and the smartphone and integrates Places API for location awareness. Integrated into Google Play Services, Eddystone is the first fruits of the efforts from developers understanding the uses beacons could play within the enterprise space and pushing Google with statements such as “Android’s support for BLE is fine but it would be better if I could do X …”

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Posted in Android, Mobile, News

So, your project is Agile. Are you?

I’ve never worked on an Agile project where people didn’t say something like, “Well, what we’re doing isn’t really Agile.” We’re always doing some version of Agile that is flexed to the company’s culture and skill sets.

More than once, I’ve been involved with projects that are their company’s first-ever Agile project. It can be exciting, and it can be quite stressful. We talk a lot about educating the client and the teams with whom we are interfacing, and when we talk about that, we usually mean educating them in the Agile process. But I think it’s also important to model an agile attitude.

There are three sources of stress that come up often, in my experience:

  • The idea that the first things we build will likely be scaled-back versions of the whole vision
  • The idea that learning and correcting course (read: failure) are expected parts of the process
  • The idea that you will be pushing the teams around you to innovate on existing business processes.

More to the point–it’s not the idea of these things; it’s when these things actually happen. As ideas, they’re sensible and not particularly difficult to sell. When these things actually begin to happen in your project, they can feel like failure, strife, and wasted time.

There are a handful of things I try to keep in mind so that my personal attitude can help everyone deal with those stressors:

Take care of myself

I try to manage my energy level so I can handle challenges and be a positive presence. I take the breaks I need to bring a fresh mind to problems.

Get the fundamentals right

I practice good meeting hygiene (agenda, goals, good notes, etc.). I seek clarification on communication and decision-making protocols.

Know the big picture

I refer back often to the goals of the project, the core user needs, and the constraints. I check in periodically to make sure everything I’m doing lines up with the project vision.

Aim to fail early

I try to welcome collaboration at a cross functional level, and show my ideas as soon as I can using sketches and prototypes. This is something I feel like I can always get better at–getting input as soon as I can on user needs, feasibility, and constraints.

Ask myself:

  • Am I helping the team respond quickly to changes? Am I helping leadership understand my status, dependencies, and options for next steps? Am I able to help leadership understand risks, priorities, and tradeoffs?
  • How can I adjust my approach in order to respond to changes in the project? Do I understand my work and that of my teammates well enough to adjust to the needs of the project? If not, how can I educate myself?

Those of us who are pioneering Agile within an organization need to do our best to be knowledgeable, flexible, and kind. “Going Agile” can be uncomfortable, and if you can demonstrate the principles in your own work habits, you can help others through the awkward parts.

Posted in News

Is software eating the world? Or, is it really customers?

Part 1 of 2 

Software eating our world

Are software companies poised to “take over large swathes of the economy?” Apparently Marc Andreessen thought so in an article from 2011. I think he is right. Let’s take a quick mental inventory of a few of the major firms running on software and delivered as online services – eBay, Amazon, Pandora, Shutterfly, LinkedIn and Netflix. Each one of these organizations, within their respective industries, has used software (digital services) to gain control over, or seize, sizable market share; and in some cases they’ve pushed top competing firms out of business. Anyone remember Borders or Kodak? Personally, there was a time I thought Monster would always be the juggernaut of recruiting and placing job seekers. Well, I had to smile when recently in an article in Forbes the writer compared Monster to “a 2001 Dodge Neon – a resume repository.” And how is LinkedIn doing? The firm just got an upgrade from Barclays so things seem to be going well for them. I think some of its success stems from robust features for sharing, joining groups, and as a research tool. It’s attracting the best candidates and in turn attracting the best recruiters.

It’s clear that the things we want to do are, more and more, being serviced and provided through software. We have become dependent on software to connect us with our friends and family, to educate us, and for games and shopping. So more companies are focusing on software to deliver customer value through the customer experience. Now this gets interesting. Software is spawning an emerging tension between CIOs and CMOs to tango over spending to reach customers. A prediction from one Gartner analyst (Laura McLellan) is that by 2017 chief marketing officers (CMOs) will out spend CIOs on IT. This spending is on digital marketing along with software. That is the great news. On the flip side – “ehm” – do we (meaning those of us in software) have a solid idea of how this disruption is affecting our customers in the markets we serve? Jeffrey Bussgang of the Harvard Business School says, “…Marketing leaders and agencies now carry the burden of understanding technology’s impact on their business, the entire customer experience…to win market share.”  Read the rest of this post »

Top 3 Reasons Your User Research is Boring

shutterstock_226425211_350Kara Swisher of Re/code gave a keynote address for Interaction 15 in which she described trends in content. One thing she talked about was the way Buzzfeed rapidly generates listicles and memes from shared media experiences. She joked about trying to apply this lighthearted approach to subjects she has covered–“15 Things Bill Gates was thinking while I was interviewing him.”

Well, I’m a user researcher, so Swisher’s talk made me think of user research. If you’ve ever wavered over whether to take a survey in exchange for being entered in a drawing, you won’t be surprised to learn it takes skill to design a study people will actually want to participate in. And if you’ve ever pondered the hit to your budget for recruiting participants from a highly-specialized user group, you might be interested in this study suggesting that playful surveys can intrinsically motivate people to participate (meaning, it’s not payment that’s motivating them, and they are better focused on the task).

Why does so much user research require extrinsic motivation? Because the studies are boring, generic, and the users don’t understand what’s in it for them. Well, how the heck does that happen?

Reason #1: You don’t want to offend anyone.

Right now, I’m working on an application for customer service representatives who take calls from health insurance subscribers and health care providers. We’ve done several rounds of usability testing and interviews, but now I think we may have missed an opportunity to play a design game: “Make Your Own David Letterman Top 10 List.”

  • Top 10 ways you know you’re going to have to escalate this call
  • Top 10 ways you know someone has worked here more than 10 years
  • Top 10 things every new rep should know
  • Top 10 people most likely to eat your lunch out of the break room refrigerator

Humor is tricky, and we don’t want to put people in the position to say something they’ll regret when we are recording them on the job. Nor do we want to subject them to someone’s disrespectful take on their work. I’d have to keep playing with “the Buzzfeed effect” to find an appropriate way to employ it with enterprise users.

Design games are not new, though. Playing a game makes space for participants to reflect, compare options, and imagine what could be. Even busy executives can find value in seeing their Very Serious Project from a playful perspective.

Reason #2: You don’t know what motivates your users.

Another place I could see a Buzzfeed-style approach is with a website survey, à la’s community polls or Anne Friedman’s GIF-laden survey of her newsletter subscribers (You’ll want to click that second one–monetization is rarely so delightful.).

Here’s an idea for a potential unmoderated usability survey:

  1. How many times did you curse while using this site?
  2. How many times would your dad have to call you if he used this site?
  3. How close is your face to the screen right now?
  4. How much do you like baby sloths, on a scale of 10-28?

OK, so that’s also a little tricky. We don’t want to use a voice that isn’t consistent with the company’s brand. But even if the brand is conservative, some legwork and creativity can find a way to connect with participants beyond a paid incentive. Whether that’s through humor, or through doing an effective job of communicating the value of the study, it doesn’t happen without some effort and skill. And that can’t be replaced by an Amazon gift card.

Besides, when I see the same few survey pop-ups on every site, I have to think a more customized, engaging approach would have a better chance of being on-brand.

Reason #3: You don’t have the right people.

So, if I told you that our Experience Design group is packed with researchers, designers, and content strategists who regularly knock each other off our custom ergonomic office chairs with memes and one-liners, how likely would you be to have us talk with your customers?

  1. I already hired you, and I’m so glad.
  2. Call me.
  3. I’d better forward this to my manager.
  4. Wait, what’s a GIF?
  5. Lolol

Leo Laporte Falls Off His Exercise Ball (with Audio)

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