Whether you are researching a new intranet or revamping your current intranet, the primary goal stays the same: an intranet should connect employees to the people and information they need to be productive.
That part is easy. It’s the next part that gets a little fuzzy. Because inevitably people will start asking:
- 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 simply not feasible to involve every user in every single decision. However, you can create a virtual panel of key employees that can provide direction and clarity around key issues.
What is an intranet user persona?
A user persona is a fictional person you create to represent a large group of users who share many characteristics. When done correctly, intranet personas are highly realistic and relatable users of your intranet.
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The value and uses of personas
User personas help escape conceptual debates around personal preferences as well as political jousting between stakeholders. Referencing user personas at key decision moments shifts the focus to users’ needs. This smooths the decision-making process and results in a simpler, more purposeful intranet.
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 tagline, 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.
How to create intranet user personas
Step 1: Collect information about users
To craft realistic personas you need to learn about your real users. Interviews and direct user observation are the most valuable tools.
Methods for gathering information:
- Observational research
- Focus groups
- Org chart analysis
- Demographic and job role data from HR
Information to gather:
- Job roles and goals
- Personal motivations
- Tenure with the organization
- Levels of technical savvy
- Frequent daily tasks and used applications
- Frequently referenced information
- Barriers to completing common work
- Physical and hybrid environment conditions
- Familiarity with the organization (structure, management, business strategy)
Many of the 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 intranet user personas to this data to ensure they account for a large amount of employees.
Step 2: Analyze information for patterns
Once you’ve collected a decent amount of information, it’s time to start the analysis. Comb through your observations, surveys, notes and other research in search of patterns and similarities. Look for patterns of commonality around:
- Applications used
- Devices used
- Working environments (remote or hybrid workplace)
- Physical or technical limitations
- Demographic data
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 should be organized into bulleted lists that are easy to compare. It's also helpful to write out a short narrative to bring the personas to life, making them believable and richer than lists of characteristics alone.
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.
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.
Pictures (but not of actual employees)
Adding photos to your user personas will help make them more 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 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.
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 at their desks, or on-site with customers.
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
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 incorporate any helpful feedback. You can also run the personas by this simple user persona checklist created by UserFocus.
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.
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in 2014 and has been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.
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