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An effective website must meet both user and business requirements, right? In the case where a business simply needs to gather qualified leads and the user is simply trying to learn more about the business, how can I create a true data backed persona that will inform my design decisions?

Ethnographic or contextual research would be ideal, but what is there to observe in this case? There is no tangible product and interaction is limited to main navigation and perhaps a contact form.

Is the concept of a persona not applicable to this case?

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Would you not consider the business the "product"? Aspects of the business that are wanting to be made known (facts, fluff, etc.) and the user's perception of the company may equate to goals of that product. –  Evil Closet Monkey Nov 26 '13 at 20:18
Why is the user trying to learn more about the business? If you can answer that, you can probably come up with personas. If, on the other hand, your bosses/clients just told you to make the site because they want to show off to the world but you can't think of a reason why anybody would want to read what they have to say, then you have my sympathy, but personas won't make the site work. –  Rumi P. Nov 27 '13 at 11:52

3 Answers 3

I'm not sure I understand your question. If the question is: "I'm developing a product page, but I don't have a product yet. Should I use personas to drive the product page design?"

Then my answer would be absolutely. Even if you don't have a product, you should design your product and web site in order to captivate and address the questions of the customers you are trying to target.

You could argue that you want to develop a web page that is just for the purpose of creating lead generation, so the page could have a generic message and asks people for their emails. But wouldn't it be more effective if you designed the page in a way that I understand what you are building and made me interest in it? I think it would increase the likelihood of me giving you my information.


Personas allow you to focus on the customer segment you are targeting. Every decision should be made taking your customers into consideration (even if you are still trying to get customers). Instead of thinking about the customer that might buy your product, it helps to think about Suzzy that is a mother of 3 and would really be glad if she found that the product you're building is available at her favorite retail store.

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The goal of your persona is not to observe users figuring out to navigate your prototype (that's usability testing). The goal is to create a rich description of a typical (but not too stereotypical) user, that can easily be communicated to the team, for everyone on the team to be able to empathize with your users.

If you want to use observations, you would want to observe pretty much anything they do - not just limited to how they would be affected by your offerings - in order to build the needed context to truly understand who you are designing for.

Then, once you have the personas in place, you might go about creating some hypotheses as to how to improve your design and start testing those hypotheses, but this part comes after the personas (although I suggest that you continuously improve your personas based on new findings).

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Your first source of data is existing academic and professional research. For example, one source might be: To access research databases, you may normally need a membership in an educational or professional organization. However, many libraries fund free online access to the databases. For example, my local library's page for that is

Some research is shared publicly by the author in all or in part, or open-sourced. You can search research like that via

You can also conduct your own contextual research around the topic. For example, if you are working on a project for a plumbing business, you could find study participants who are plumbers, or people who recently needed to find a plumber. From there, you can find out their current needs, areas of frustration, tools they are using/not using and why, etc. It's actually completely ideal to start research before there is any design to show people... it helps you get a better sense of what you could create to help solve people's problems and/or encourage whichever behavior you want.

Additionally, you can research competitors... run studies using their websites to help you understand what's working well, what's not working, common design trends or other trends, etc... as well as reading existing research about competitors.

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