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  • Writer's pictureRob George

User Interface: Goal-Directed Design & Persona (Week 1-2)

Updated: Mar 10, 2021

"Make people happy and your products will be a success." - About Face

After reading chapters 1-3 in About Face: The Essentials of Interaction Design by Alan Cooper, Robert Reimann, David Cronin, and Christopher Noessel, I've gained a better understanding of how a Digital Product such as an app, software, etc. can fail and how important it is to pay close attention to a specific user persona.



When developers focus too much on the build and not enough on how the user is going to be using it. Due to deadlines, they tend to ignore the goals, needs, and motivations of who may be using the end product. Resulting in a product that is not as great as they thought.


Following misplaced priorities, the technology industry sometimes doesn't pay attention to the who, what, when, where, why, and how of a user for their product. It is possible to build a good enough product with little of this knowledge, as told from this reading, but what I took from this is it could better enhance your chances of success if you do pay attention to the five W's.


"The people who build the products — developers — are often the people who design them." Meaning, developers (coders) may choose between "ease of coding and ease of use" due to deadlines resulting in either a poorly designed product that doesn't fit the user or a well designed product that took a little more time to make sure it was meant for the user.


Not having a well structured design process can cause a product to be unsuccessful or undesirable to users.


About Face mentions a few points about how not focusing the product around users' personal goals can create a poor product:

  • They make users feel stupid because they can't figure it out.

  • It causes the users to make mistakes.

  • Requires too much effort to operate effectively.

  • The product doesn't provide an engaging or enjoyable experience.

What I understand from this is as a digital product designer you should pay attention to what the user's personal goals are so they will feel comfortable with your product and can easily adapt to it. Some things to think about, as mentioned before, are who, what, when, where, why, and how are they looking to achieve something with this product?



It all depends on what type of user you're working with, but the best way to meet their goals, from what I've read, is to make learning the product as easy as possible for the user. Think about them using the product for the first time and figure out the best design for them to easily learn and use it for their personal reasons.


1. Implementation Models basically focus on the inner workings of the digital product. The technology and coding that we don't see in the final product. The more you base your product around this model, the less interested most users will be.

2. Mental Models are how users think a product works, or as Alan Cooper and his co-authors put it, "a cognitive shorthand for explaining it." A good example from the book that further explains the mental model would be how someone would explain electricity: plug in an appliance and the electricity flows through the cord like liquid. How it actually works is irrelevant to the user, but a basic explanation that is easy to understand and remember is important when developing a digital product (or any product).

3. Represented Models are "how the designer chooses to represent an application's functioning to the user." It's what the user sees on the screen and not the coding of the product. The represented model of a product should be very similar to the user's mental model, otherwise they will have a difficult time learning and understanding how to use the product for their personal goals.

Below is a diagram from the book which I felt was very helpful visualizing how these three models work and what is best for the user.


Goal-Directed Design

Goal-Directed Design is a method of designing a product that is centered around a specific user. There are six phases in this process:

Phase 1: Research

Research is one of the most important phases in this process. It is also very important that the graphic designer is part of the research phase so that they can empathize and understand how they can help the user before proposing any ideas. This phase consists of finding out the who, what, when, where, why, and how's of a targeted user and answering these questions:

  • What is the product?

  • Who will/does use it?

  • What do your users need most?

  • Which customers and users are the most important to the business?

  • What challenges do the design team and the business face moving forward?

  • Who do you see as your biggest competitors? Why?

  • What internal and external literature should we look at to familiarize ourselves with the product and/or business and technical domain?

This phase of Goal-Directed Design is also a good time to learn more about your users and their goals. About Face also lists these points to find answers for:

  • The context of how the product (or analogous system, if no current product exists) fits into their lives or work flow: when, why, and how the product is or will be used.

  • Domain knowledge from a user perspective: What do users need to know to do their jobs?

  • Current tasks and activities: both those the current product is required to accomplish and those it doesn’t support.

  • Goals and motivations for using their product.

  • Mental model: how users think about their jobs and activities, as well as what expectations users have about the product.

  • Problems and frustrations with current products (or an analogous system if no current product exists).

Phase 2: Modeling

Modeling (A.K.A Personas) is what I feel goes hand-in-hand with research. It provides feedback that help designers understand and prioritize features based on user needs. Through research, you discover the foundations of your primary persona which influences the design of the final product and helps target the product to a specific user.

Phase 3: Requirements Definition

The analysis of persona data and what is needed to meet the persona's goals, behaviors, and interactions in a context scenario. In other words, it is an understanding of "a day in the life of the persona" and what the requirements will be for the product to fit in this persona's life.

Phase 4: Framework Definition

VISUAL FRAMEWORK: Making the product look attractive with brand attributes, typography, color, and visual style.

Phase 5: Refinement

Like any design project, this phase is tidying up the product. Finding elements such as type styles and sizes, icons, etc. that need fine tuning for the final product.

Phase 6: Development Support

This phase occurs during the construction process of the product. According to Cooper and his co-authors, they feel "it is important to answer developers' questions as they arise." There can be many design changes that need to be done as the product is being developed and a lot of times the developers will have fast approaching deadlines that they need to meet.



Finally we come the end of this week's reading, the Models, otherwise known as personas. A persona is, from what I understand, an image of a person that represents a specific group of people (or target users) with specific needs, motivations, and personal goals that a product should be based around.


About Face lists some ways a persona can help designers with designing a digital product:

  • Determine what a product should do and how it should behave.

  • Helps make it easy to communicate with stakeholders, developers, and other designers by using a common language that clarifies who the product is for.

  • Build consensus and commitment to the design. Because they represent real people, they are easier to relate to and work off of.

  • Measure the design’s effectiveness. Design choices can be tested on a persona in the same way that they can be shown to a real user during the formative process.

  • Contribute to other product-related efforts such as marketing and sales plans.


One last part of this week's reading was how to create a persona for your product. According to About Face, there are eight steps in constructing a persona for your product. Below I have listed 4 out of 8 steps that I feel are most important.


Along with identifying demographics such as their occupation, age, gender, location, interests, etc., you should consider their behavioral variables:

  • Activities—What the user does; frequency and volume

  • Attitudes—How the user thinks about the product domain and technology

  • Aptitudes—What education and training the user has; ability to learn

  • Motivations—Why the user is engaged in the product domain

  • Skills—User abilities related to the product domain and technology


Dig a little deeper and go into more detail about the persona's behavior patterns:

  • The behaviors themselves (activities and the motivations behind them)

  • The use environment(s)

  • Frustrations and pain points related to the behavior using current solutions

  • Demographics associated with the behavior

  • Skills, experience, or abilities relating to the behavior

  • Attitudes and emotions associated with the behavior

  • Relevant interactions with other people, products, or services

  • Alternate or competing ways of doing the same thing, especially analog techniques


About Face says, "the more specific the target, the better." You want to narrow who is the most important or the best fit for this product. They suggest these six types of personas to consider:

  • Primary - the most important persona

  • Secondary - not your target but they are important users as well

  • Supplemental - a third target persona

  • Customer - people who pay for the product

  • Served - people affected by the use of a product

  • Negative - the people the product is not meant to be used by


The narrative is a description of the persona which About Face recommends should be no longer than 1-2 paragraphs or PowerPoint slides. It contains fictional situations that quickly introduce the persona through a day in the life of this specific type of person. It should also mention what the persona is looking for in a product.

About Face lists a few do's and don'ts when writing the persona narrative:

  • Do include summarizing descriptions of all significant behavior patterns in your narrative.

  • Do not include excessive fictional descriptions. Include just enough detail to cover basic demographics and to weave the behavior patterns into a story.

  • Do not add levels of detail to your behavioral descriptions that you did not observe.

  • Do not introduce solutions into your persona narrative. Rather, highlight pain points.

Having an image of what this persona may look like helps get the point across eve more. Some do's and don'ts for the persona photo:

  • Do not use photos with unusual camera angles or distortions. This is distracting and makes the persona look like a caricature.

  • Do not use photos with exaggerated expressions. These also will look like a caricature.

  • Do not use photos in which people are obviously posed and smiling for the camera.

  • Do use photos where the subjects look like average people, rather than models.

  • Do use photos in which the subject is engaged in an appropriate activity against a realistic background.

  • Try to keep photos across persona sets similar in style and crop.


Below is a diagram from the book that I found demonstrated the importance of specifying your persona for the product. It shows that everyone has their own preferences and goals they are looking to achieve. If you design for everyone you'll most likely end up having a product that doesn't satisfy anyone. But if you design for a specific type of person, you have a better chance of having a successful product.

Thank you for reading!

View my User Interface Page for more!

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