User Personas

Our client was a major US bank undertaking a redesign of their customer-facing website. The bank wanted to be sure that the design of their new website was guided by real user needs and not by technology.  We were commissioned to develop user personas to characterize the target users of the website. 

Our approach

We worked with the bank’s own development team throughout the project. This was critical because the design team needed to experience real customers first hand.  Our research focus was on people who had responsibility for both the day-to-day “hands-on” management of financial matters as well as longer term planning. We included homeowners, investors, small and micro-business owners. 

Working from the bank’s customer lists we recruited 24 participants. We then visited them at their homes or places of work and carried out face-to-face interviews as well as observing their environment and inviting them to walk us through how they used the current website and any other planning tools they used.  We audio recorded the interviews (we avoided using cameras because of the confidential nature of the materials we were shown) and then had each of the interviews transcribed.

Using the transcripts, we carried out a thematic analysis of each interview, pulling out key issues and important observations; then we used KJ diagramming to cluster the findings and a repertory grid to identify the main personas based on their goals and financial planning experience. Then we created persona descriptions and brought each persona to life with names, background stories and images. Finally, we checked the legitimacy of the personas by distributing them to key stakeholders within the organization and revising the personas according to comments. 


The personas allowed the development team to bring the end users into the design process, and to effectively let them arbitrate design decisions.  Now, instead of endless debating about the direction of the design, or making decisions by fiat or by political argument, the team was able to defer to the personas and ask, “What decision would best serve the needs of Kathy?” and “If we design it this way will Jim still be able to achieve his main goals.”