Managing a whole web site project can be hard. It must read well, the code must be sound, you want it to look good, it must avoid things that you know annoy visitors... On top of that you might need to share your overview with other people. Here's an approach I find useful. It brings together several of these threads. Starting with the overall intention of a visitor it incorporates appearance, readbility and the impact of things that annoy. It is structured and, in some way, reflects how your user might judge your site.

Setting up a Persona

Scallop on a bed of shells

A web site project is complex. People who co-ordinate need to think about how good it looks, how well written it is, whether the code (HTML, CSS, programming...) is good... It can be hard to put that all together for a helicopter view. The technique described here is one approach. It starts with what the user wants to do. (I'll refer to him as Stuart.) It then examines how he'll find the site, what equipment he'll use to look at it, what he expects and what annoys him. These are important. You can lose Stuart, to another site, in a second.

The approach is organised as:

The goals, findability and browsing pattern can change from one page to the next. They reflect Stuart's goal, or mindset. The other factors, like what browser he uses, may be shared across several mindsets. If you have several related, but different, pages on a web site you might want to describe a common Stuart with a different mindset for each.

The framework might be something you just think about or you may express it in writing or use a computer program that puts it all together. It can help you concentrate on the words, pictures and programs that talk directly to Stuart, without being distracted by other issues. While doing that it provides a way to ensure that those other issues aren't forgotten.

Suggestions for a target Persona follow. (A persona is a synthetic person used as the target audience of your web site.)

Back Story

The back story is additional information that you add to make the character easier to remember and explain. Put in as much detail as the team needs for the character to seem real. This could include a picture of Stuart, his address and descriptions of his educational background and family.

User Goals (and approach)

A description of what Stuart wants to achieve, when he visits your site. (I find it useful to back this with information about how he thinks and makes decisions.)


How will Stuart find the site. Using search engines is a common answer. Here's a way to check that out:

Search engines are getting smarter. They will pick up on a new site and rate it in a fairly sensible way. Don't try to fool them. If you're not already listed it may take time for your listing to rise, don't be impatient. (This takes ongoing, sensible work. Avoid quick fix tricks.)

Browsing Pattern

How many times will he visit? What will he be doing on each visit? How will his mindset change on each visit? Describe each visit, and note points to look out for.

Computer System

Describe the browsers, computer and Internet connection Stuart will use. This could be different on different visits. It's a good idea to keep him mainstream by researching the most popular browsers of the moment, screen sizes etc. Over time this will change. Your site may need to change too.

This can have wide-ranging impacts. For example: If Stuart mostly uses a particular browser, it makes sense to first develop for that browser. The result can then be tested and adjusted for the other browsers.


Stuart should be able to read the site easily.

One way to judge the readability of the words is for a small panel to look at the site through Stuart's eyes. By pooling their observations you get an indication of what Stuart might think.

I'm still surprised by readability research. The panel can improve it's appreciation by considering such research. Examples of ideas that might sharpen vague impressions:

A flowing design / Flexibility for the user (Screen Size / Font Size)

Stuart will be looking at the web site on different screen sizes and will try to change font size on some screens. He'll expect it to look good on each screen. No cut off text, white space looking natural...

You can see what screen sizes Stuart will use by looking at current research. (Similar research can be used to establish other things about Stuart.)

This is very easy to get right, if you start right. It can also be so hard to change, if you get it wrong, that you don't bother. The impact is how you design the HTML/XHTML of your web pages. The use of relative font sizes, relative column widths and design can allow the site to flow automatically.

These requirements may also dictate the sort of designs you are able to use and the tools you use to create them.

Thinking of these things up front can make life easier.

Annoyance factors

Stuart reacts to annoyance factors. When he sees these the site gains instant demerit points. If it's bad enough he goes way!

Impact: Draw up a list of these and be on your guard against introducing them. Some like spelling mistakes are easy to fix before you go live, others, like a cluttered distracting design, may be harder to fix.


Awareness of such points, and weighing them up can help you create a better web page or web site.

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