User Modeling

User modeling identifies the users of the application and their goals for interacting with the application.

Persona Development in User ModelingPortraits of 7 diverse individuals

Persona development supports the design process by identifying and prioritizing the roles and user characteristics of key audiences for a product, system, or website, then creating composite individuals to represent the key audiences. The product team forms a unified vision of the intended uses of a design through reference to agreed-on personas.

Persona development begins with assumptions about user profiles, based on data from initial market research. Through interviews and observation, researchers expand and validate the profiles by identifying goals, motivations, contextual influences, and typical user stories for each profile. Having a fictional person (persona) representing a profile grounds the design effort in “real users.”

For each persona, the user modeling description typically includes:

  • A name, age, and defined lifestyle and workstyle
  • A catchphrase that distinguishes the persona from others
  • Key attributes that affect use and expectations of the product, service, or website
  • Frequently performed tasks
  • Tools and resources used
  • Pain points relevant to the design space

Between 5 and 8 personas are manageable for design projects. For lower priority user profiles, combination personas may suffice.

Personas help teams frame design questions according to more specific user considerations. They also suggest participant profiles for user testing. Organizations should plan to re-evaluate personas every 2 or 3 years.

UCD User Stories

While personas tell us who the user is, UCD user stories tells us what they do. They are descriptions of how the users may interact with the system. Each UCD user story represents one type of user performing steps to achieve a specific goal. Like a story in literature, a good user story should have:

  • A well-defined character as represented by a persona
  • A setup that establishes the goal of the user
  • An exposition that describes the actions of the user and the system’s responses
  • A resolution that describes the resulting state of the users and the system at the end of the story.

The UCD user stories tell the designer:

  • When users will interact with the system
  • Why users will interact with the system
  • What users wish to achieve through interaction with the system

Storyboards are user stories with visual accompaniment such as wireframes.

It is important to not mistake UCD user stories and storyboards for user stories in Agile environments. In Agile, user stories are used to describe a specific function to be developed in a single sprint from a user perspective. Agile user stories are the product of good design, while UCD user stories inform the design. Of course, UCD stories serve as an excellent source for creating Agile user stories once a design is ready.

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