User requirements: Understanding your users’ characteristics

Once you have made an initial list of user segments or roles for your product, your next step is to understand the general characteristics of users in each group. Understanding your users can help you design the product to meet their needs.

The following is a list of some of the characteristics you might want to know about each user segment. Not all characteristics are relevant for all types of product — some may only be appropriate for software used at a workplace, for instance.

  • Age
  • Gender
  • Educational background
  • Language and culture
  • Computing skills
  • Physical abilities and disabilities
  • Domain-related knowledge and skills (e.g., accounting knowledge for an accounting application)
  • Job experience and competence
  • Place in the organizational hierarchy
  • Attitudes, motivation, and morale
  • Persistence, patience, confidence, problem-solving ability, curiosity, ability to deal with change, etc.
  • Frustrations and problems relating to the user’s tasks or activities
  • General sources of stress or anxiety (e.g., deadlines, performance targets, workplace competition)

Additionally, you may also give some though to the context in which your users will use your product:

  • Physical environment (e.g., home, office, factory, vehicle, oil rig, on-the-go in an urban environment, etc.)
  • Social environment (position within organization, relationship to other groups, political and interpersonal factors, degree of freedom, influence in decision-making, etc.)

Every individual is different, of course, and there is a risk of creating generalized stereotypes that doesn’t accurately describe many users in a user segment, but it is still worthwhile taking the time to think about each characteristic. For some of these characteristics, you might describe an approximate range and an average. For instance, bank tellers at a particular financial institution might range in age from 20 to 50 years of age, with the average age being 28.

For each user segment or role, you may want to write up a brief profile, which can then be reviewed and discussed with your project team. A profile for a user segment can be presented simply as a bulleted list with characteristics described in point form. Or, you might use a matrix to compare user segments side-by-side. Alternatively, you can represent user segments by means of personas, which we’ll discuss in the next post.

This entry was posted in Product Management, Psychology for UX Design, Requirements Engineering, User-Centered Design. Bookmark the permalink.

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