Case Study: Using empathy to create true to life personas
For a social product for first-time parents
Early in the design process, we established a broad goal – bring together people separated by lockdowns.
Now, one product alone would never be able to heal the framework of society, so instead we chose to focus in on a specific type of interaction, the so-called ‘weak-ties’ – the casual acquaintances and tiny encounters of everyday life. From the person you chatted to in Waterstones because they picked up your favourite beach read through to the friend of a friend you just don’t know well enough for a zoom catch up, everyday life is full of interactions that we have missed out on because of the pandemic – many that are hard for an individual to quantify.
That gave us technical requirements – it needed to connect people in person and seamlessly integrate into everyday life.
Designing for everyone suits no one. So we selected a core user group who had suffered exponentially under restrictions, looking for a group whose circumstances changed last year and would ordinarily have relied on in-person support services. Our research took us to first time parents.
The International Journal of Gynecology & Obstetrics published a study looking at the mental health impact of the lockdown on new mums. Of 1329 respondents, over half reported feeling down (56%), lonely (59%), irritable (62%), and worried (71%) to some extent during lockdown. The study found that contact with support groups was a predictor of better mental health. If our product could successfully introduce new mothers to each other, it could have a positive effect on their outcomes.
Giving our personas distinct characters
I wanted to develop a series of personas that had differing motivations when interacting with our product. The first step was to map out existing knowledge to identify the biases at play when thinking about families and digital native millennials. The first bias identified was the assumption that a first-time parent would be a ‘new mum’ in a nuclear family. In order to counter this, we used research and statistics to identify alternative family structures and factor in same-sex parents and non-normative parenting.
The personas were also designed to have differing motivations based on their core needs and their frustrations based on their work life looking at factors like income and free time. One is looking for inclusive spaces, one is looking to share knowledge, one seeks low-cost light relief and the last one is privacy conscious. The social apps that shape their knowledge of social and location-based products fit their lived experience.
Translating the personas into user needs
These diverse and distinct personas were used to extract a series of user needs by asking, “what would each of these people want to get out of using an application like this?” and “what would be their hold ups?” The bar of success is not necessarily that the product can fulfil everything, but that we can evaluate which needs are within the scope that we can cater for.
These needs went on to help shape the task flow, ensuring that any features added in or left out were considered based on whether they would affect each of our users needs. If our security features were not reassuring enough, Anila would uninstall the app and if our onboarding process asked questions that weren’t inclusive, James might never sign up.