How-to Guide for Creating Intranet User Personas

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When an intranet team builds a new intranet or revamps a site’s navigation their primary goal is to help a diverse group of employees do their jobs more easily. But questions quickly arise:

  • How do you know what information employees need?
  • How do you understand users’ core motivations and goals?
  • How do you accommodate different user groups who do different types of work?
  • How do you ensure that every design decision is based on a clear hierarchy of users’ needs?

Although it’s vital to involve real employees in your project, it’s not feasible to involve users in every single decision. But you can create a virtual panel of key employees that can provide direction and clarity around key issues. That is the core value of creating intranet user personas.

What is an intranet user persona?

A user persona is an imaginary person you create to represent a large group of users who share many characteristics in common. It is an archetypal user to whom many real users are quite similar.

When you create user personas you flesh out details about the imaginary people to make them highly realistic and relatable. And you conduct research to understand the different patterns that tie users together into clearly delineated groups.

intranet redesign personas
Intranet persona developed for a ThoughtFarmer client

The value and uses of personas

User personas help an intranet team escape conceptual debates around personal preferences as well as political jousting between stakeholders. Referencing user personas at key decision moments forces personal preferences to recede and shifts the focus to users’ needs. This smooths the decision-making process and results in a simpler, more purposeful intranet.

You can use personas to vet virtually any intranet decision, large or small. Additionally, there are certain specific ways and times when they are particularly helpful.

How and when to use personas:

  • Identifying common user tasks
  • Determining homepage content
  • Prioritizing content for landing pages
  • Selecting features to implement
  • Vetting the navigation for a site or section
  • Prioritizing needs for mobile apps or content
  • Evaluating a tag line, motto or visual design

User personas are not meant to replace other forms of user involvement. They simply offer a fast, consistent reference point throughout your project and can complement any in-depth user feedback efforts.

The steps of crafting user personas

You don’t have to follow a rigid prescribed process for creating intranet user personas. The goal is to create personas that accurately reflect the main patterns in your user base and contain information that will help you make decisions.

Step 1: Collect information about users

In order to craft realistic personas you need to learn about your real users.

Interviews and direct user observation are the most valuable tools. They lends a real-world perspective to supplement data collected in less direct ways.

Methods for gathering information:

  • Interviews
  • Observational research
  • Focus groups
  • Surveys
  • Org chart analysis
  • People directory analysis
  • Demographic and job role data from HR

Information to gather:

  • Job roles and goals
  • Personal motivations
  • Locations
  • Tenure with the organization
  • Levels of technical savvy
  • Frequent daily tasks
  • Frequently used applications
  • Frequently referenced information
  • Barriers to completing common work
  • Physical work environment conditions
  • Familiarity with the organization (structure, management, business strategy)

Many of the research methods listed above generate rich qualitative data. You can supplement that with quantitative data from your HRIS (Human Resources Information System) about job roles, job levels, locations, age groups, etc. In the analysis phase you can compare your draft user personas to this data to ensure they account for a large amount of employees.

This introduction to personas from Step Two Designs includes a helpful table of “information to gather during interviews”.

Once you’ve collected a decent amount of information from/about an adequately diverse group of employees, it’s time to start the analysis.

Step 2: Analyze information for patterns

Comb through your observations, surveys, notes and other research in search of patterns and similarities.

Look for patterns of commonality around:

  • Roles
  • Tasks
  • Behaviors
  • Applications used
  • Devices used
  • Challenges
  • Working environments
  • Physical or technical limitations
  • Motivations
  • Goals
  • Demographic data

Two great articles from Kim Goodwin of Cooper, a design and strategy firm, help to explain in further detail how to analyze your research:

Step 3: Create relatable, informative personas

Creating your user personas can be a quick step once you’ve completed your analysis. This step is about creatively molding the patterns you’ve discovered into a few slightly fictionalized characters.

Some of the information about the personas should be organized into bulleted lists that are easy to compare. It’s also helpful to write out a short narrative about each user. These narratives bring the personas to life, making them believable and richer than lists of characteristics alone.

Intranet Persona Sample
Example of a persona developed for thoughtfarmer.com web site

4-7 personas
Personas are meant to help guide you. If you have too many of them they’ll create distractions rather than offer direction. If you have too few, you’re likely missing some key differentiating patterns. You could start out by aiming for five personas, but the analysis phase should indicate the number of personas you’ll actually need to create.

Informative alliterative aliases
Once you’ve identified clear user groups, try to come up with persona names that highlight those groups. For example, names such as “Newbie Nathan” or “Executive Elizabeth” can make the personas easy to relate to and memorable. These examples capture core characteristics that highlight user groups’ challenges and needs.

Unassuming and accurate names
But don’t take the naming too far. You don’t want the personas to be distracting. In a post on Do-it-yourself intranet personas intranet manager Rebecca Jackson explains how she went so far as to research popular names for certain age groups to make sure they were common and believable.

Pictures, but not of actual employees
Adding photos to your user personas will help make them more real and relatable. But don’t use photos of real employees, or real employees’ names. Seeing real users in personas can distract your team and limit their thinking to what they know about that specific person.

Consistent, readable format
Decide upon the categories of information you’ll include in your personas and come up with a simple one-page or two-page format to use for all of them. It can be helpful to break out personal and demographic data to present separately from work related information. These example personas show several different layouts and cover both intranet and website projects:

Consider data visualization
Well-presented data visualizations can convey information quickly with a strong impact. Look through the data you collect for useful information that can be displayed in simple charts. For example, you could include a breakout of how users spend their time, such as in meetings versus travel, at their desks, or on-site with customers.

Categories to include in personas
Each intranet project will have its own unique requirements for personas, but some types of information are fairly standard. The digital design firm Noko wrote a good article that includes an intranet persona template. The basic categories common to many intranet personas include:

Category Example information
Personal information Name
Age
Gender
Family situation
Job role Job title
Main responsibilities
Daily tasks Timesheets
Benefits lookup
Updating project files
Challenges & frustrations Hard to find templates
Lack of clear company priorities
Multiple logins
Goals Stay abreast of company news
Advance to a manager role
Improve turnaround times

Vetting user personas

As you draft and finalize your user personas it’s important that you test to ensure they are on the money. One good way to test user personas is to show them to stakeholders and ask for feedback.

Reviewing user personas with stakeholders not only provides you a source of feedback, but also helps stakeholders understand the role of user personas and of user centered design more generally. Make sure to show the personas in a draft stage so you can truly incorporate any helpful feedback.

You can also run the personas by this simple user persona checklist created by UserFocus, a UK-based usability firm. The checklist can help ensure you’ve crafted the personas thoughtfully and with due process.

Fitting user personas into your intranet project plan

Crafting intranet user personas can take some time. The creation of user personas should happen early on in your intranet (re)design project. Be sure to schedule enough time in your project plan to do a good job.

User personas are one of the lesser-used design tools for creating user-centered intranets, mostly because intranet managers don’t know much about the topic. But they’re an incredibly useful tool with applications throughout an intranet project. Nothing can keep an intranet team focused on users’ needs like a few fictionalized archetypal employees staring you in the face.

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