22nd March, 2010

Process Toolbox, part three: Audience

Here’s the third of several excerpts from my @Media The Process Toolbox presentation. As we all know, “If You Build It, they won’t necessarily come”. So, with the backbone in place, and collaboration established, it’s now time to define the audience.

If you build it they wont necessarily come


We often talk to clients about the audience “to whom they are accountable”. This is our way of explaining that we can’t wave a magic wand, that we need to collaborate through research, and that the client will contribute a lot to the process. You should be ashamed if your website doesn’t meet your visitor’s needs. Users of a product should be the main focus of our collaborative efforts. They are the people who are personally utilising the product to accomplish their goals.

The user groups that should be of highest priority during the project should be defined, and their needs and potential frustrations should be put into context.

Audience Grouping

I’ll briefly discuss a couple of methods we use in order to work with a client, or internally for our own systems, to better understand the audience. We need to set goals, investigate options and use our processes to reach conclusions.

I find it easier to discuss aspects of a project when referring to an audience group, rather than individual user profiles. Its sometimes referred to as Segmentation, though this often divides the audience by typical demographics such as age, sex, location etc. With my preferred kind of audience grouping, we look to create unique groupings based entirely on the anticipated or existing visitors the website will receive.

Its a case of “Well, yeah, but what would Group X do in that situation? You hadn’t thought about them...”. More typical User Personas can be real or invented, and that old faithful method can be very important in certain scenarios. However, a better foundation is arguably to work in broader brush strokes and think in terms of groups.

Logo Visual Thinking

Lets enter the scary world of business management and training solutions!

“Logovisual thinking uses simple tools and structured processes to bring about profound learning - enabling individuals and groups to think much more effectively, to solve problems, design solutions or make sense of complexity and change.”

Basically, we’re talking about magnetic hexagons.

Essentially, LVT tools empower a design team or a room full of workshoppers like little else. Visit Logo Visual Thinking for more details. Lets take a look.

LVT Example

For a recent project, our team got together to try and identify all the possible uses for the site, all the ideas, all the fun, all the seriousness.


We then begin to group the hexagons, identifying similarities, problems, weighting the popular and unpopular and so on.

The outcome can be centred around a specific area of research, or can be accidental. The boards will stay around for the project’s duration, and we refer to them, or move stuff around. We photograph and iterate the boards as we go.

Sometimes, we (two or three of us) and the client team and invited guests (four or five of them) get stuck in with the hexagons. Each person is given a pen, a pile of hexagons, and a task. This one is very complex. We sometimes use a “Who, What, Where, Why, When...” model, and the possibilities are endless.

Audience Grouping with LVT

So, how do we use these magnets to define Audience Groups. Well, we might ask guests to list all types of user they can think of - anyone. Not just “press” or “businesses” or “government’, but more specific, deeper users. Perhaps “geography student”, or “art teacher”, “newspaper researcher” or “unemployed rat-catcher”.

They’ll write one on each hexagon, and because its quite anonymous, even the quiet attendees get involved. It is very democratic, and allows everyone to contribute. Then everyone gets together, all the hexagons are pooled and weighted, and the grouping can begin.

Post-its Examples

You can also use plain old post-its for similar research. Whilst the LVT magnets are much more flexible, the tools aren’t necessarily important. It’s all about empowering the client or the team, and defining audience goals or outcomes early on, or on the fly as you go.

Audience Hierarchies

With a typical “who is our audience?” exercise, we can then group the magnets on the boards and identify a small number of key audience groups.

Audience hierarchies

Next, we established a possible hierarchy. Which is the main group, which less so etc. We will then use these audience types as key reference points throughout the whole process.

Audience Grouping Models

Finally, we can use this information to assign common denominators and create lo-fi task models for each audience group. For example…

We can repeat this for all audience groups, and then refer to these groups in subsequent decision-making and process.

These task models take the important but traditional sitemapping a step further by identifying the various courses of action that a user may traverse within a section of the site, adding greater strength to the Project Backbone.

Note: Slides designed by Gregory Wood.

Full series…

This article was originally posted on Erskine Labs, September 2009.


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