Personas for the EBI resdesign

Example EBI redesign personaA lot of work has been going into the redesign of the EBI website  over the last few months. We’re steadily moving into the design of various things – content, navigation, pages, interfaces, and so on. As soon as we have something interactive, in whatever state, we plan to get it in front of users as soon as possible and test its usability.

Before that, though, we have to make something. One of the key things that we think will help us inform our design work is the use of personas. There is a lot of good information out there on how to create personas and how to use them, and my colleague Antony has already written about personas on the EBI Interfaces blog.

Recently, I worked with team-mates Jenny Cham and Andrew Cowley to produce personas for this project, and I wanted to share some of our work with you.

Do It Yourself

Go ahead and download the custom template for Word (.dot) and amend or adjust it to suit your needs. You can also download a little guide (.doc) that has an annotated example with explanations of each feature.

What do you want for Christmas?

I recently heard or read (I don’t remember!) a great analogy about using personas, likening it to buying a gift for someone.

If the recipient is someone you know reasonably well, then you have a good chance of buying something they like; something tailored to their needs and interests. If, on the other hand, you’re buying a gift for a complete stranger, it’s going to be a lot harder. You’ll have to guess what they might like, and probably just end up getting something pretty generic and impersonal.

The distinction between these two situations, of course, is the amount of information you have to work with. This is the same when it comes to creating and using personas. The more they can be based on data, the better. A good persona gives you an effective way to turn these data into information that you can use to influence your design.

Data, not guesswork

For the EBI redesign process we have five personas – Konrad, Terry, Hannah, Ron and Abi. To create these, we drew on three main sources of quantitative and qualitative data:

  • the EBI website survey (2010)
  • things that a number of us (*) have observed and recorded with our users
  • search analytics and server logs
By triangulating these sources of data, we were able to identify our key user groups, and then to create realistic, representative personas for each of these. Abi, shown below, represents a large group – expert bioinformaticians and “power users” of the EBI’s data services.


Below is an annotated versions of our persona, Abi. This is based on a custom template (.dot) I created in Word – not by favourite piece of software, but it did at least allow me create a file that most people can use and edit.

Annotated EBI redesign persona example

All the annotated points for this example persona are explained in the accompanying guide document (.doc). Hopefully, most are self-explanatory, but there are a couple of very EBI-specific ones on there!

Getting to know your personas

That’s all well and good, but if we don’t actually use our personas, they’re worthless. To do this, we have to get to know them. The team have to get to know them. The developers and the team leader have to know them. Get “Abi” involved in Secret Santa this year!

This, I think, is the really tricky bit, and I don’t think we’ve cracked it yet.

Leisa Reichelt made me laugh when, in her [great] keynote at UX Cambridge 2011, she asked, “Who uses personas in their design projects?“.

Lots of hands went up.

Who’s using them in a project right now?“.

Most of the same hands stayed up.

Who knows the names of all their personas?“.


I wasn’t the only one who sheepishly lowered their hand at that point, and there weren’t really very many hands left in the air. It was a great way for Leisa to illustrate the point that you MUST embed these personas in your design process or you may as well not have them. I hope the point was not lost on me… let’s see!

It’s about the process, not the tools

If this persona template is useful for you, great. I am happy.

But the template is just a tool; it’s a way of representing the information so that it can be shared and so that different personas can be compared, side-by-side. They are designed to push the important information to the fore so you don’t waste time, digging around for key points or trying to infer them from a block of text.

However… this is the tip of (another) iceberg – the research that needs to go into creating valid, useful personas should not be underestimated. As Tim Caynes writes:

Creating personas that enrich understanding, and guide our design principles is notoriously difficult

If I’m honest, I suspect our personas could do with more research. After that, you have to use them, and not just print them out and stick them on a wall somewhere.

Research. Generation. Application.


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