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How proto-personas help UX audits

Megan Cattley
Strategist

In the fast-paced world of digital product development, understanding the user’s perspective is not just beneficial, it’s essential. Proto-personas, a streamlined variant of traditional personas, offer a pragmatic solution when the time, budget, or direct access to users is limited. This article explores the pivotal role proto-personas play in enhancing UX audits, shaping user experiences, and ultimately driving successful outcomes in design processes.

 

The definition of proto-personas

A persona is a representation of a typical existing or desired user group and is shown in the form of a fictional (but realistic) person. They are a frequently used tool within UX and user-centric design processes, creating a common vocabulary for internal teams and facilitating faster discussion and decision-making. Unlike personas (which are based on direct research with users), Proto-personas are created using assumptions and insights gathered from organisational stakeholders. This can be done via stakeholder interviews or by stakeholder workshops. We always suggest that full-fledged personas are developed when possible but proto personas are a useful secondary option when time, budgets or user access is not available.

 

The relationship between proto-personas and UX

Insights on Proto personas should be gathered from stakeholders with a direct understanding of users and where possible have a range of roles within the organisation. This will help to support holistic feedback and provide a more realistic reflection of potential users.

Proto personas can help shape the user experience in several ways. They can be seen as an extra member of the project team, able to quickly answer questions and help prioritise requests. In addition to this, in the design process, it can be easy to include ‘just in case’ functionality; personas help to avoid this and create focus. UX stands for user experience, therefore all decisions must be user-focused and utilising personas is a good way to keep users at the centre of the next steps.

 

Benefits of using proto-personas in UX audits

Proto personas have a specific use case within UX audits in helping to increase audit relevance through user-focused analysis. They help to create a clearer understanding of user needs and pain points and enhance the accuracy of the audit. Combined with user observations and the usability review recommendations for changes following the audit are user-focused.

The proto-personas should not only be limited to use within the UX audit but also used as a constant tool when reviewing or changing touch points. The whole team must be familiar with who your personas are. As previously described, we also recommend that proto-personas are developed into personas when viable, and kept up to date as a living document. As people’s wants, needs and goals, as well as the landscape, naturally change over time, your personas should be reviewed and updated.

 

Steps to implement proto-personas in UX audits

Our proto-personas typically capture the following information:

Key user attributes
Key user attributes include demographic details, tech savviness, professional background, and any other relevant characteristics that define who the persona is. These attributes help the design team visualise and understand the type of user they are designing for. For example, attributes might include age, gender, occupation, education level, or geographic location. Knowing these helps in tailoring the design to meet the specific needs, preferences, and limitations of the user group.

Actions and behaviours
This aspect of a photo persona describes how the persona typically interacts with the product or similar products. It includes user habits, common tasks they perform, their typical workflow, and how they prefer to interact with the digital environment. For instance, whether they favour mobile over desktop, use voice commands, or rely on keyboard shortcuts. Understanding these actions and behaviours aids in designing interfaces that are intuitive and align with the natural tendencies of the user base.

Motivations and goals
Motivations and goals delve into understanding ‘why’ the persona acts in certain ways or uses the product. It identifies what drives the persona, such as specific tasks they want to accomplish, personal aspirations, or professional targets they aim to hit using the product. For example, a person might use a financial app to save for retirement or manage daily expenses efficiently. Knowing these motivations helps in prioritising features and creating a user journey that aligns with achieving these goals.

Challenges and pain points
This component focuses on the difficulties or frustrations that the persona faces with current products or within the scope of their tasks and goals. These could be specific features that are lacking, complex processes that hinder their workflow, or emotional frustrations such as feeling overwhelmed or confused. Identifying these pain points is crucial for UX audits as it pinpoints areas where the product needs improvement to enhance usability, reduce friction, and ultimately provide a more satisfying user experience.

We find that these areas are most integral to supporting the audit process and understanding the user profile.

Applying proto-personas to UX audit processes is essential to ensure that the proto-personas are integrated into workflows and also create user-centric insights and recommendations. Within the user observations, proto personas can help to identify the audiences to recruit for testing, and when conducting a heuristic or usability evaluation they also help to identify the key journey flows to review. Finally, it is important to revisit your proto-personas throughout insight and recommendation creation to align the next steps in a user-focused manner.

 

Conclusion

Proto-personas can play an important role in the UX audit process. They help to shift internal teams’ perspectives to that of a user-focused mindset and guide UX audit activities such as user observations and the usability review to keep user goals in mind. Take a look at our UX audit package to learn more about our UX audit process or download our workbook The fundamentals of UX audits.

 


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