The Persona touch

Digital Publishing’s Head of User Insight and Innovation Alison Saunders, introduces our work on user personas.

Improving the user’s experience of our website is fundamental to the work of Digital Publishing Division, but first we need to make sure we know who those users are.

Historically, we have tended to focus on the statistical expert, someone who is able to quickly absorb technical and often complicated information and who knows exactly where to go to find the data they need. However we need to make our products more accessible to a wider, more public audience and in order which requires user insight knowledge.

This requirement prompted us to commission a project with Pure Usability to research the audience of the ONS website with particular focus on the ‘citizen user’ and to develop set of user personas that could be used to guide the strategic design of the ONS site in future.

So where did we start?

We launched a website user satisfaction survey in November, to find out more about the people who use data and statistics from the ONS website. Over 400 responses were received which we analysed to understand more about who are users are and what they want. In addition, we and to ensure more qualitative analysis we also carried out interviews with some of the respondents, based around the core issues which users are interested in with regard to using the ONS website and our data.

What did we find out?

• More than 80% of respondents were educated to degree level or above
• 16% used a tablet and 10% a smart-phone to access the ONS website
• 75% of respondents had visited to site more than 10 times in the past year
• 20% of participants post frequently to Facebook or Twitter, while 40-50% check their accounts frequently

Through the research we identified three distinctive and robust persona types: ‘Expert Analyst’, ‘Information Forager’ and ‘Inquiring Citizen’, each with a unique set of goals, behaviours and motivators:

Analyst

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It is important to note that a single individual may shift between persona types. Academics for example, might be expert analysts for their research, but may forage for information on a number of issues outside of their expertise to support their teaching. At home they may search the ONS site for the most popular baby names along with many other inquiring citizens.

Our research suggests that we should simplify our website layout and reduce the complexity of language used. Of course, Simpler shouldn’t mean dumbing down! It just means gaining the same level of knowledge with reduced cognitive overload!

As different personas use different applications, we need a more responsive design to our website to adapt to these devices, be they desktop, laptop, tablet or smart-phone.

So what next?

Our research doesn’t end here. We are seeking representative users from each persona type to map their user journeys and conduct user experience testing to gain multi-dimensional views of User needs and maintain a continuous cycle of user insight and improvement in line with our business goals: If you think you fit one of these groups and would like to get involved then contact us at web.comments@ons.gsi.gov.uk

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