Creating Personas for Education

We get a lot of help during R&D from a few familiar faces: Jane, Tim, Marie, Dylan, Mark, Gloria, Alan, Angie, and of course, office favorite, Yosef. Some of them are in high school looking at liberal arts colleges in Vermont, some of them are CSU alumni interested in giving back, then there are the faculty, and the parents, etc. But here’s the twist – these aren’t actual students, instructors or parents, they’re personas: hypothetical users of a product or service represented through a variety of made-up profiles.

Personas have been an important part of our research & discovery phase for years; they personify the goals & frustrations of the client and their audience, while giving our team reference points throughout the design process. If we move this page into that menu, will it be easier for Jane to find? Does this new layout improve Tim’s experience on the site? 

In Higher Education, our clients’ target audiences are often the students they’re trying to recruit – but their brand, network, and community rely on a plethora of secondary demographics. When we design for higher ed, we’re most often designing for:

  • Prospective Students: The most popular and targeted persona amongst our clients, we’ll sometimes design two prospective students to make sure we’re hitting enough pain points. These personas can also differ dramatically in terms of what they’re looking for and what’s important to them; a school’s size, location, religious affiliation, and more can shape the needs & wants of a prospective student as well as their academic trajectory (Undergraduate, graduate, transfer, online, continuing, etc.).
  • Current Students: A current student will have different reasons for visiting the site than a prospective one. These personas often spend the least amount of time on the site as they will typically have single objectives such as checking their email, accessing their student portal, or accessing the library.
  • Parents: Parents are interesting to design for because of the older generations they belong to. These personas experience the web differently than their children and so designers must keep their needs & preferences in mind. They will often have a longer attention span than prospective students — which translates into how many pages & levels they will navigate — yet some web experiences may not be as intuitive to them as their younger counterparts.
  • Faculty/Staff: For any project, we want to make sure our designs are dynamic enough for the needs of the faculty & staff, however involved they are with the site or not. Apart from design, we also build our clients’ new sites on Drupal because the easy-to-use CMS gives departments & administrators a better way to communicate and collaborate. Read more about the Benefits of Moving Your EDU Site to Drupal.
  • Other demographics to consider can include Donors, Alumni, Employers, Community Members, and more.

User Personas are a great way to outline user needs & frustrations, especially for colleges & universities who get hundreds of thousands of visitors each month. Having a good selection of these hypothetical users to reference back to during the design process allows for the team and the client to see their choices, ideas, and solutions as they relate to all potential users, not just some.