Introduction to Client Personas: a Theory

At the beginning of a project with a new client, the client team can appear to be an amorphous mass. Personalities and decision-making hierarchy emerge as the project progresses. As individual personalities emerge, it becomes easier to know how to communicate, and how to exert influence over the team as a whole, and with individual members.

Although we all like to think that we are unique, we all have characteristics that will slot us into one of a set of client personas for a particular project process and outcome.

All persona development has to start with a theory, or hypothesis. This is mine. There are three groups of criteria by which I evaluate clients for the purposes of communicating with them, and managing them.

If there is a researcher out there who would be interested in conducting research and analysis, please let me know.

Personal Investment

What is the persona willing to do to make this project a success? What amount of time, personal effort, team resources, and corporate influence are they willing to call on? Full analysis here.

Business Contribution Ability

What is the persona’s level of expertise in their core competency? Their title should give you some idea. It’s not as easy to determine their level of Digital business expertise. Full analysis here.

Design Contribution Ability

How experienced is the persona at contributing to the design of an experience? Experience with a design process or even an IT project can mean less project ramp up time. What experience do they have with software development, and which processes: agile, iterative, or waterfall? Full analysis here.

And You Are?

You will fit one of these personas as well. UX designers often have a challenge in that they feel at odds with a commonly stated corporate objective: to make money from our dearly beloved users.

This is where an ability to

  1. Ask, “Why?” and reveal that you don’t know everything (personal investment)
  2. Understand the business and do some math (business contribution)
  3. Understand at a high level, common technical or algorithmic tools (design contribution)

is necessary to generate design solutions that go beyond the obvious ones.

For example, I worked in Digital Media for many years, where we made money from showing more and bigger ads to our audience. We found ways to increase income that did not require simply increasing the number of ads on a page; like, increasing the number of pages viewed by someone over the course of the day or month to increase the number of ads viewed, or increasing the value of each ad through targeting. In both cases, making the experience better led to greater ad exposure without turning each page into a Nascar vehicle. Get creative!

Your call: you can create beautiful design deliverables while distancing yourself from the business outcome; or, you can fully engage with the problem at hand and find a creative answer that works for both customers and the company.


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