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I’m a designer at a health tech start-up, and I’m currently working on a project to design a Telehealth platform to educate pre-op orthopedic patients, so that they don’t have to attend the requisite in-person joint class. We just kicked off the discovery phase, and as I really want to be thorough about how we’re gathering and synthesizing our user interview data, I’ll be using Cooper’s standardized method for creating user personas.

However I’m a little unsure how to apply Cooper's concept of grouping interview subjects by role - which is basically the first step in persona gen beyond gathering data. In the book About Face, the author says, “For enterprise applications, roles are easy to delineate, because they usually map to job roles or descriptions. Consumer products have more subtle role divisions, including family roles, attitudes or approaches to relevant activities, etc.”

Since I'm designing for the latter, it seems I have to be a little creative with what roles I'm creating and the criteria I assign to them. How have you approached this challenge? Do you have any tips or best practices for grouping users by roles? Thanks in advance!

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Interview / observe them, understand their behavior, then slowly uncover the commonalities. Use those to start uncovering their roles / groupings. Roles become apparent after the analysis of the data, not prior to interviewing.

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The Interview should be focused around deducting what roles the subjects fit into, rather than predefining it. However, if the is distinction in terms of the roles is important, you could screen the subjects based on multiple screening questions/survey derived from the desired roles you want to account for.

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A method that works very well for me is looking at the extremes of the personas attributes and form groups where the needs and outcomes seem to divert the most.

So for example, in this case, you mention educating a patient before an operation. So one extreme might be, a person that never had any kind of operation and someone who's had more than ten. You would encounter different roles, one is learning, the other might be more focused on identifying what changed since the last time. The actions of learning and reviewing include different needs and outcomes, contrasting these groups might lead to valuable insights. Consider any other attributes and try the same approach and I think you'll be surprised at the unexpected angles that can be uncovered through this exercise.

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"Roles" in this case should be taken in the larger sense of group. As Nicolas Hung pointed out, these groups become apparent only after conducting the research, through the analysis. Commonalities are one way to identify them, on the condition that these common points are relevant to the product / service you want to design.

In the health tech domain where I conducted user research for different products, I noticed that familiarity with healthcare professionals made a big difference in the way users approach online health services. Another type of distinction that might be useful is the degree of commitment / attitude towards self-care.

These come in addition to more generic, but still relevant, indicators such as education level and familiarity with technology.

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