The Persona Principle – 8 steps to take UX beyond web development

SuzanneKavanagh2016 e1497455179749

BookMachine Works is a creative events and marketing agency, specialising in the publishing industry. We combine experience, energy and enthusiasm to create outstanding events and unrivalled marketing campaigns. Here Suzanne Kavanagh, who is part of the team, shares her tips on how you can apply UX techniques and persona development across your business.

Personas are a user experience tool for web developers, right? Well, yes. Typically, they help understand user requirements for online/digital products, but they can also improve insight across your business. Before we talk about how to start we need to bust a few myths…

You need to be a web developer

No you don’t. Those people who answer phones, take queries, process orders or speak to customers are the ones with first-hand experience of who your audience are, what they want, and the problems they face. Talk to your colleagues. You’ll be amazed at the insights you gain.

You need a massive research budget

Simple, free tools can supplement in-house knowledge. Survey Monkey questionnaires gather fresh customer insights. Google Analytics provide data on search terms, devices, operating systems and location. Profile customers based on what you already know: look for trends, groupings and types on your own databases.

They’re only for web users

Wrong. The persona principle can be applied in different contexts and to different groups. Have previous cross-departmental projects struggled, as there is resistance to change? Develop a better understanding of what each team wants, needs, and is constrained by. Want to write new author guidelines? Not all writers are the same: explore those differences to help them deliver a cleaner manuscript.

While working at ALPSP, I looked at the different types of members to better understand their needs: from small university presses to large commercial publishers, non-profit societies to NGOs. Each has their own context and unique set of requirements, but commonalities can be understood by developing ‘organisational’ personas to show what drives engagement with a trade association at a certain type of company.

Combine this with individual personas and you get a richer picture of the ‘who, what, where, when and why’.  It’s a powerful way of understanding how to deliver value and relevance.

Want to give it a try? These 8 steps will help.

  1. Write down your objectives: company goals, target audience, what you need to know, why, and how.
  2. Review what you have in-house: CRM, sales records, personal contacts.
  3. Brainstorm what the team already know.
  4. Download simple Google Analytics reports.
  5. Set up a short online survey to fill gaps.
  6. Carve out time to read and reflect what the data tells you.
  7. Cross-refer sources to test what you think you know.
  8. Get visual: use images and media to paint a picture.

Once you’ve worked through these steps, pull it all together in a table. Add an imaginary name and a picture to put a face to them. List job title, responsibilities and a demographic profile. Describe the environment they work in, how they approach their work, what are they’re looking for and what annoys/scares/motivates them. Now double back on your objectives. Use the persona to inform what you do.

This all sounds like standard market research, right? Yes, but with a lighter, more pragmatic touch. I’ve conducted plenty of questionnaires, focus groups and intelligence gathering in my time and have found the persona approach is flexible, easy to start and can be applied across a business. Once complete, you can regularly revisit and update to check what’s changed. That’s one principle every business should adopt.

Useful stuff

  • The UK Government guidance on UX techniques is simple and straightforward.
  • This presentation from the University Press Redux expands on work at ALPSP.
  • Owen Priestley, former Head of Design & User Experience at Semantico, is a UX guru. Read more here and here.

You can contact BookMachine Works to discuss how we can help you understand different audiences.

Related Articles


  1. Very useful advice Suzanne, which has the added benefit of being easy to apply. Regarding #5, “Set up a short online survey to fill gaps”, I’d be interested to know more about your own experience of doing this.
    How ‘short’ should ‘short’ be?
    What incentives do you offer to encourage people to respond?
    Should your questions be generic or highly specific?
    KeySurvey, SurveyMonkey etc have many benefits, but the content of the survey is key.

  2. Thanks for the question Mark. I’ve used 10-12 questions in the past. Don’t waste the respondents’ efforts on lots of personal information questions, just focus on key personal data such as job title to understand who is using the site, why and how they find it. I’d recommend a combination of closed and open questions. For example: have they used the site today? Why/what purpose? Did they find what they wanted? How often do they visit? etc. You can also use ranking or weighted questions to assess their experience of and attitude to the site. Was finding information easy? How useful/clear/easy-to-use was the site? You can then ask what other sites they use (to see which sites you are up against) as well as ‘what else would you like to see?’

    I’d recommend stripping out repetition, make it quick and easy to complete as possible, and make it sure provides answers relevant to your overall goals/strategy. Hope that helps!

  3. Thanks for the question Mark. Some thoughts below.

    I’ve found brevity is increasingly important in securing a better response rate. Depending on topic and what you need to find out, I’d recommend around 10 questions (or less if you can manage it). I try to avoid wasting space asking for unnecessarily detailed personal info and repetition of questions unless there’s a methodological reason for including (what people SAY they do versus what they ACTUALLY do).

    You can include an incentive (such as online retail vouchers or some kind of device – depending on budget). However, I’ve found that if your community are interested in the topic, have a vested interest in engaging with you, and all communications around the survey are short & succinct, the response rate can be just as good if not better. Others might be able to suggest good incentives that worked well…

    In terms of questions, it depends what you want to find out. I’ve found a mix of open/closed and ranking help assess experiences and realities! It should all be informed by your overarching goals for the project. The most important thing to bear in mind is to have neutral and non-leading text.

    I’d be interested to know what you have found works.

Comments are closed.

Sign up to our Newsletter


* indicates required

BookMachine Ltd. will use the information you provide on this form to be in touch with you and to provide updates and marketing. Please let us know all the ways you would like to hear from us:

You can change your mind at any time by clicking the unsubscribe link in the footer of any email you receive from us, or by contacting us at We will treat your information with respect. For more information about our privacy practices please visit our website. By clicking below, you agree that we may process your information in accordance with these terms.

We use Mailchimp as our marketing platform. By clicking below to subscribe, you acknowledge that your information will be transferred to Mailchimp for processing. Learn more about Mailchimp’s privacy practices.