Project Description

At Aspen Technology, I became the lead usability engineer and evangelist for the persona research and development project. This was a grass-roots initiative that I started during code-freeze, which is typically a slower-paced time of year. With some free time at the office, I began researching anything to augment my UX skills. I came across some articles related to personas and immediately recognized their value considering how often I heard the term ‘the user’ within our team. And the question I always had was, “who is the user that we refer to so ubiquitously?”

The challenge I saw here was a strategic one. Developing personas seemed straightforward enough, but this initiative would require buy-ins from stakeholders in various levels of the organization. Convincing senior members of the UX team was not a problem as they already knew the value that personas could bring. The next step was to gain the buy-in from upper-level management who would approve travel expenses and hours allocated to this project. Finally, I would have to gain the buy-in from a product manager willing to incorporate this into his development process. After several meeting and presentations, I was able to communicate the value of personas to the VP of technology who would approve hours and expenses as well as a product manager who was in need of extensive research.

With the resources secured, we began planning our first round of user interviews. It was clear we had to take an ethnographic approach to our interviews because while a person may report doing one thing, their behavior would say something completely different. Therefore, I designed my interviews to incorporate not only a series of standard interview questions, but also a product demonstration by the participant. They would walk us through their typical day-to-day tasks in an almost conversational tone in order to get the most natural setting in which they used our software.

After several interviews with multiple users, I was able to identify four major user groups or personas. Three of these personas were current, regular users of the software. They were considered ‘specialist’ users who were actually a minority when compared to the fourth whom I considered ‘generalists’. These generalists made up a vast majority of potential users, however their needs were not completely met. Therefore, we saw very little usage and adoption within this group. After digging a little deeper, I discovered that there were 2-3 key features that vastly impr