Notes from the redesign team


Personas, part 2

The consulting firm we hired to help us conduct user research and create personas presented their work to us this week. Personas are intended to shift your point of view so that you are better able to see a design through the eyes of its users. By making design choices that work well for a few particular (fictional) people who are representative of large groups of individuals, we'll design a better website.

The consulting firm presented four primary personas and three secondary personas. The primary personas include a first-year undergraduate, a fourth-year undergraduate, a fourth-year PhD student, and an experienced professor of bioanalytical chemistry.

The personas personalize the users we know we need to serve. It's much easier to look at a particular design decision and ask, "is this going to work for Ansari?" (one of our undergraduates), than it is to approach the question more generally (will this work for undergraduates?). I'm thinking about personas as a means of fostering empathy in design.

Some of the main take-aways from the interviews with students were:

  • English 101 is the gateway to the library; what they learn from using the library while taking this class will shape how they see and interact with the library in the future.
  • Likewise, professors shape students' understanding of the library more than librarians do.
  • Some students were uncertain about what they have access to through the web outside the library and what they have to come to the library to access.
  • Many library users -- especially undergraduates -- are interested in "good enough" research; they just need something that will work, not necessarily everything or the best things.
  • Students are intimidated by the stacks and have a hard time finding books; they want topical signs in the stacks to help them browse.
  • They have currently little interest in smart phones , which might be because they have nearly ubiquitous wireless connectivity with their laptops on campus.
  • Upperclass-folk have a strong sense of ownership of the library; they understand it better, and they feel like it's their space.

A few things that are particular to students at NC State:

  • They are more focused. Most know what degree they want to pursue when they arrive their first year.
  • While students are focused, much of what they do is interdisciplinary. This is just part of how they think about what they study.
  • We have a large international student population.
  • The library is viewed as the hub of undergraduate life. (There may be a sample bias in this case, because the students who were interviewed were around or in the library.)

After the persona presentation, walking through the Learning Commons, I'd found that my view of the library and of the students working, studying, and socializing there had shifted. I was better able to see the library through their eyes. This is broadly useful, not just for redesigning the library's website, but also for thinking about ways of improving other services. Approaching the design of the library's new website with Jessica, Ansari, Casey, and Professor Magnus in mind should help us make better design decisions.



For the Web site redesign, we're interested in learning more about our users' behaviors and their motivations for coming to our site. One method of documenting the various types of users and groups accessing and using the site is through the use of personas. Personas are fictional individuals that represent users of your Web site or application. Personas typically include a fictional name of the user, demographics about the user, and their goals and motivations for coming and using your site.

Creating personas for Web site design is a common practice and is often initiated in the early discovery and analysis phases of a Web design project. Personas guide design teams, helping them stay focused on the end user and their goals. Throughout a design project, "designs can be constantly evaluated against the personas and disagreements over design decisions can be sorted by referring back to the personas." (

Personas are the result (and an artifact of) user research, often drawn from interviews and usability studies with end users. They may also be derived from secondary research. As we embark upon our Web site redesign, we're using a number of sources to create our personas. We've engaged an outside consulting firm who will conduct contextual interviews with our library users next week. To formulate our library personas, the consulting firm will work with the Libraries' Web redesign team to analyze interview data as well as research from other universities (see Cornell University Libraries, University of Washington Libraries and Macquarie University Library).