When Stereotyping is Actually PC (Persona Critical)

Great intranet design depends on how well you know your users. 2Plus2 explains how to research user personas to help inform UX design. 

By Cathy Dew

In the context of employee intranet design, volumes have been written regarding the efficacy of personas (yes, we are guilty as charged).

But there’s a reason that getting this whole persona thing right in the intranet design process gets so much attention. It’s because personas are such a critical part of user experience design.

If you haven’t taken the time to research who your users are and dig deep into how they work, how they think, how they will or won’t, can or can’t, might or mightn’t interact with your intranet, you are going to greatly reduce your chances of creating a successful interactive workplace tool.

Understanding personas will help you anticipate user attitudes and behaviors. If you know their needs, challenges and motivations, you will better be able to design an intranet that puts employees front and center, which is the most important way to create a positive UX.

So go ahead. Categorize your potential users. Classify them. Pigeonhole them. Place them into little archetypal boxes by making all the educated assumptions about them that you can. This is one instance where clumping individuals together into convenient stereotypes is PC, as in persona critical.

How to Create Personas

Depending on the size and structure of your company, you might want to create just a handful of personas or you may end up with, literally, dozens.

The key is to find a way to segment your employees by the different components that will impact how, when and why they will use your intranet and then combine these characteristics into composite characters.

Keep it real.

It is important to understand that you are stereotyping reality-based characters, not over-the-top caricatures. There’s a big difference between the two. You want to keep it as real as you can. Identifying your users as cartoon characters isn’t going to get you the results you want.

Take the demographic of age, for example.
  • Not all baby boomers have to ask their grandchildren how to turn on “the computer machine” as they wax poetic about the good old days when recordings only came in easy-to-scratch vinyl.
  • Not all millennials have snail-sized attention spans,  communicating only via memes while living in a constant loop of posting duck-face selfies on Instagram.
  • Gen Xers are not all slackers ala the cast of The Office and Gen Z kids are not all feasting on laundry detergent pods while Snapchatting their lives away.
  • All of these are examples of extreme caricatures that do a grave injustice to whole generations of curious, hard-working, self-aware humans.
Your personas need to reflect composites of real people.

So, yes, people born at the tail end of the 20th century and beyond are digital natives. It’s true that they are probably gong to expect a certain standard of software that will, within reason, adapt to their changing needs. They expect their online tools to come with a decent interface design. But don’t assume that boomers and Gen X users aren’t after the same things. Maybe they will need a longer learning curve (and maybe not). The best way to know? Ask them!

Go into the field.

The only way to learn who your users are and what and how they think is through thoughtful inquiry. Depending on the size of the company and the resources you have at your disposal, you can conduct online or paper surveys, one-on-on in-depth interviews, or conduct a series of focus groups.

The point is to find out where your employees stand on preconceived notions of an intranet, using technology in general, elements they would find useful, and what they would be reluctant to explore.

Find out what they like about how communications flow in the company now, and what they would change if they could. You want to understand their problems, their pain points, and ask if they have any ideas for resolving them.

You will certainly notice some trends coming forward, as common issues start to repeat themselves. And this is what will form the bases of your user personas.

One-on-one interview or open-ended survey questions might include:
  • What tools do you currently use to keep up with information about your industry?
  • How do you define and measure success in your job?
  • What parts do you find most enjoyable? Most frustrating?
  • Take me through a typical work day. 
  • What takes up most of your time?
  • What are the most challenging aspects of your job?
  • At the end of the day, what work-related problems do you take home with you. What keeps you up at night? 
  • What tools (analogue and digital) do you rely on in your job? 
  • What tools work and which tools don’t and why?
  • Do you collaborate with colleagues on a regular basis? If so, how does that look/work?
  • If you could change two things today, what would they be? 

The point is to learn as much as you can about your users so when you do start creating personas, their capabilities, interests, desires, and personalities are based on authenticity, rather than assumptions.

The Buy-In Bonus

Just the act of asking your employees what they think about a new employee intranet provides an opportunity to reap a nice buy-in bonus for your project down the line.

While you are interacting with your employees during persona research, you can take advantage of the chance to engage in a bit of intranet cheerleading. It’s an excellent opportunity to introduce employees to the concept of a robust and UX-centric employee intranet by planting the seeds for user enthusiasm.

You will even be able to start identifying your intranet champions, the staff members who will be only too happy to help you launch the intranet, get their colleagues excited about it, and even help train co-workers on how to take the most advantage of a new in-house tool.

Let 2Plus2 Personalize Your Personas

The information architects, UX and UI designers at 2Plus2 understand the critical role personas play in the successful design of an employee intranet. To learn more about how to create a winning intranet for your organization, give us a call at 510-652-7700 or contact us online.

Cathy Dew
Cathy Dew – CEO + Information Architect
Cathy focuses the company on our mission – Real results. Every time. Information architect and strategist, Cathy is passionate about making software work well – the function, the feel, the result.