The Fountain Institute

How to talk about users to the business

Published almost 2 years ago • 4 min read

Dear Reader,

Today’s newsletter comes from the audience. Here are 3 challenges from my newsletter survey. Can you find the theme?

“The organisation I work for prioritises design based on business need and not customer need.”

“Ideating what's best for the user and then trying to explain it to client”

“My design challenges are to justify not only to do the user research but also to need the time to analyze the results and present them in a meaningful way.”

The Q: How do I talk about users to the business?

Today, let's get back to the UX basics: promoting the user perspective within the business.

They’re the ones that are experiencing our designs, and they’re the ones that pay the bills.

Business conversations about users happen in metrics, numbers, and analytics by default. Is the user perspective in these numbers?

It's all user data, but it's hard to empathize with the human condition in a graph about button conversions.

"An analytic is something that we can get the computers to count. Something they can track." -Jared Spool

Analytics isn't counter to human-centered design, but analytics are on a business-centric view by default. But what is easy to track isn't always valuable.

Behind every count, there is a real human behavior or demographic, but these numbers are generally organized around a button or a quarterly goal.

The segmentation is generally based on what the business cares about.

For example:

  • "Let’s look at the conversion rate for our checkout.” ...does a user care about those numbers?
  • “Let’s look at the completion rate for our onboarding.” ...does the user care about onboarding?
  • “Let’s look at our daily active users.” users care about other people’s behavior?

To make the business care about the user, you must organize the data around the customer. That's an extra step, but it's an important one.

Here are the top 3 ways to talk about the user with more than numbers.

The UX Case Study

  • Focused on a single customer or group
  • Composed mainly of anecdotal evidence (but often include stats)
  • Says something about a larger segment through a story

The French economist Pierre Guillaume Frédéric Le Play first employed a case study in 1829 to explain statistics about family budgeting in an easy-to-digest format.

They were quickly adopted as teaching tools. Today, the case study is most commonly used to explain a corporate solution to a customer problem.

Designers can use the case study to tell a story about a single user in detail when the numbers don't give enough context.

Most UX portfolios employ this technique to tell the story of a project.

UX case studies can be organized around a user's daily journey, the designer's process, or internal stages such as marketing funnels.

Common storytelling formats:

  • Problem vs. solution
  • The hero's journey
  • Freytag's Pyramid

Get more inspiration for case studies in this video by Ellen Lupton.

The UX Persona

The UX persona is everywhere these days.

  • Focused on demographics like income, gender, education, device use. etc.
  • Composed of statistics and empirical evidence
  • Based on qualitative research and user demographics

Alan Cooper gave birth to UX personas in 1983 to make products more focused. In those days, products were designed and built by developers. Cooper's book The Inmates Are Running the Asylum inspired user-centered software design with a focus...rather than the one-size-fits-all approach.

"Personas are not real people, but they represent them throughout the design process." -Alan Cooper

Learn more about "real personas" in this interview video with Alan Cooper

Personas are typically filled with marketing information. Demographics like age, income, and location in UX personas often step into the domain of marketing research.

The quality of personas varies wildly, thanks partly to personas becoming a "required UX portfolio artifact." A quick Google search reveals fluffy, made-up personas and templates that have nothing to do with real user research.

What if you want to show things like personality and style? Demographics don't give us the full picture:

The UX Archetype

The archetype in UX is focused on user behavior, which contrasts the demographics of personas.

  • Focused on motivations like habits, needs, and goals
  • Composed of psychographics and motivations
  • Based on qualitative empirical, and behavioral data

UX Archetypes come from the social sciences and literature. Carl Jung pioneered the idea of archetypes long before designers, but his definition of them feels like it's straight out of a Medium article:

"Innate, universal prototypes for ideas and may be used to interpret observations." -Carl Jung

You probably already know non-UX archetype frameworks like the OCEAN Big 5 of Openness, Conscientiousness, Extroversion, Agreeableness, and Neuroticism or the 16 personality types of the Myers-Briggs.

Here's an example from UX:

Archetypes provide a bit more "why" into the user data. These are often used with personas, and the two have been merging in the past five years.

Watch a quick video example of a common archetype

Tips for Using These 3 Formats

In practice, you might use a combination of all 3 formats to get the job done.

When presenting user insights in the form of a case study/persona/archetype, keep these things in mind:

❌ Don't Do

  1. Don't pretend to be a data analyst
  2. Don't act like your persona or archetype is obvious
  3. Don't fill the profile with fluff like silly names, stock photos, or unnecessary decorations
  4. Don't EVER use a template to visualize the complexity of human behavior contained in personas & archetypes
  5. Don't act like a persona or an archetype is a final deliverable

✅ Do Instead

  1. Be honest about your own biases from the beginning
  2. Be rigorous in connecting your user research data to each element of the persona or archetype
  3. Be open about which insights are based on empirical data and which are based on your instincts
  4. Be collaborative throughout the research so that these user frameworks are never created in a silo
  5. Be open to revision and take discussion as a sign that your user framework resonates with your stakeholders

Case studies, personas, and archetypes are powerful formats for communicating the "why" behind user data.

But they should always be based on real research data.

To learn how to gather UX data, check out this free 7-day mini-course on UX Research.

It's 7 lessons for designers that want to get better at research.

or Read a sample first

Some recent feedback:

“Fabulous mini course, a great refresher, foundation setter or even an intro!”

Until next week!

Jeff Humble
Designer & Co-Founder
The Fountain Institute

P.S. We just announced the August meetup. Grab a spot for Taking the Wheel of Your Design Career with Damian Martone, and stick around after the talk for our new networking groups!

The Fountain Institute

The Fountain Institute is an independent online school that teaches advanced UX & product skills.

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