User segments and roles

Many products can be used by different groups or categories of users. These groups, or user segments, have different goals and reasons for using the product, and in some cases the groups have different demographics.

Websites and enterprise software use roles to restrict access to functionality to different user segments. For instance, a web-based discussion forum will assign most users the “contributor” role, which permits them to post and reply on message threads, but some selected users will be assigned the “moderator” role, which gives these users the additional ability to edit and delete posts.

Other products may be general-purpose tools that can be used for various purposes, or may offer a wealth of features that users may use in various combinations. These products don’t have explicit roles. For example:

  • Word processors may be used to write letters, business documents, essays, reports, novels, technical books, journalism articles, diary entries, webpages, and so on, and the needs of the user for each case might be different. You’d also expect a word processor to be used by a very diverse user community — students, professionals, and home users, with varying ranges of educational attainment, and with different physical impairments.
  • Spreadsheets are used for many different purposes by financial analysts, data analysts, accountants, software developers, project managers, and others.

Understanding what user segments and roles are relevant for your product is an important early step, as the requirements of users in each group will drive the design of your product.

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