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Designing for Personalities by Sarah Parmenter

Jul 29, 2019 | An Event Apart 2019

July 29, 2019 – Day 1, Session 3

Net 2011 Designer of the Year

She’s worked with lots of brands we would recognize, global brands, and is the founder of You Know Who which is a design studio based in the UK.

Speakers are known to have speaker rituals, their own way of building up to their talk, or so. Hers is usually that she has to close off and keep herself away from everything and concentrate. The worst nightmare is slides needing to change at the last minute.

This morning she learned that not only are our hopes listening to use, but they’re also looking at us. Her phone this morning alerted her that she’s wearing ’the $50 dress that took over the UK.’ So, worst nightmare realized.

She’s really lucky to be part of the Adobe Insider’s group. The group got talking about their ancestry and someone mentioned there was a way to trance their ancestry back via DNA. She used to say she has French and Norweigan roots.

Her ancestry results came back and told her random people on the internet she’s related to but also the exact background you’re from. Her results were an 80 mile radius from her current home. So she had to wave goodbye to her slightly European history and say I am 100% English. It was scary how easy it was to believe her own rhetoric for years about something that simply isn’t true.

We’ve started to believe this recently with UX designs. That because they’re common they’re ok.

Many of our websites and digital processes are broken and it’s down to us to fix it.

Every person in this room is responsible for bringing intelligent conversations to the surface.

Traditional Roles / User Personas

When we build out user personas for example we define things like age, gender, job roles, financial status, etc. This has meant that we’ve had to make an awful lot of assumptions bout our users. And they’re high level assumptions.

If you want to see how easy it is for computers to make sweeping assumptions about you, go here:

Most of the things that were in hers were entirely wrong.

These are an amalgamation of average tributes we imagine our customers have.


The problem with personas is that it doesn’t tell us much about anything or give us context. They’re missing vital context that can inform how the user is interacting with the site.

Kill Your Personas is an article by the Microsoft design team you should read.

If the personas as so high level they force you to speak in generalities they’re not useful.

Microsoft is asking hard questions about the intent and limitations of users of their personals so they can design for real people and real situations.

When we design for personas we only take care of a fraction of what we need to do.

We have 3 problem to solve right now:
1. Personality traits aren’t static. There aren’t just 4,they too evolve with content.
2. Personas are contextual.
3. Both of these things create moving targets for us as designers.

This leads us to needing to create the most desirable experience for the user.

How do we do this? We’ve gotten used to the notion of FIXED design.

We AB test, we go with the majority of what some people want, and when it’s not linked to a conversion amount, we’re going with the majority of design changes. Were pot B for example actually wrong, or was it a presence situation, and we’ve just changed our design for a specific segment and disregarded segment B because they’re not in the majority pot?

But were they wrong if you look at the context of how they approach your design?

Your company might change something because the overwhelming response is that sector A prefers something, but then after the change conversion rate goes back to exactly what it was.

People that do design work say AB testing doesn’t really have a place unless it’s linked to a dollar amount conversion.

Everything we design is never finished.

Nothing we ship is ever finished.

What we’ve been missing is the presence panel that goes over our websites. We can only do this by asking users what their actual preferences are. It’s time for us to put some of the power into there hands and shifting the web into a gear that can be truly personalized for their needs.

The first thing she would do is wave a magic Harry Potter wand to allow reduced motion to be pushed through on all browsers. Not being allowed to turn parallax scrolling off is a huge problem. It’s her worst nightmare. She has very bad motion sickness and these types of websites make her feel physically sick.

When the web was going through this phase of parallax everything it was a nightmare for her.

Along the same notion, animated GIFs do exactly the same thing for her – repeating imagery makes her physically ill. Not being able to turn this off is a nightmare.

This is the first thing she’s love to see is a preference panel that allows her to reduce motion. This exists and browser support is getting there.

However what is down to the browser? What is up to the system preferences on your computer? Working groups are discussing it and it’s a complex problem they have because these things spread beyond the web and into operating systems.

It’s hard to believe we haven’t been doing this already. When these new elements have been bolted onto our designs over the years we seem to think ‘wow this is so simple we should have been doing it already.’ We’ve often thought of parts of our jobs as things that are rumbling in the distance that may happen eventually. This is happening now though.

1/3 of people are said to be introverts. The introvert group has needs that require modified UX designs.

She’s an INFJ (me too, so is Gale, so is Jeffrey Zeldman).

The rise of introversion is no accident. — > I missed the data here, if you captured it let me know in the comments! 

She worked for a big media company in NY where they looked at designing for introverts. They will patiently seek out complex UX patterns when they align with their levels of comfort. How interesting! this means that introverts will purposely seek our buried dark patterns in things.

Introverts will do ANYTHING to avoid picking up or making a phone call.

She worked in LA for a time and was able to look after some of the biggest social media accounts on the internet like Ariana Grande and Justin Bieber. Part of the data they looked into was introverts because it they had an online platform for superfans for these celebrities.

The online introvert group had needs that were very different than the there people. They needed ‘safe silos’ and even on the popular social channels they’d had safe handles where they would accumulate, because they felt safer in the smaller groups. They would strangely self-police. The superfans really did feel lie they needed their own smaller safe-space.

They then looked into what they could do to elongate session lengths so that they could keep daily active users in the app for a long time. They learned that these superfine introverts would read more than they would post themselves. So they made public the personal chats of the celebrities, they weren’t stored, were in real-time, and the screen was blacked out if the screenshot feature was used which would result in the space being less private and less safe. The feature was shelved because of the time it took to develop but it was a very interesting idea.

Users will begin to value applications or services that bother them the least, respect their privacy, and allow for ra level of personal UX adjustment.


Let’s have a think – in time-critical or personal situations, what we’re asking the average user to have the foresight to turn on incognito mode when many of them don’t even understand what a cookie is.

Something’s gone wrong, something that might be personal, and we’re asking you to have the foresight to turn on incognito and then continue with your tasks so that this information isn’t shared throughout the backend of the internet.

No matter who you speak to, everyone has a horror story about a bad cookie that followed them around the internet

Cookies can seem like a smart marketing solution until context and empathy let them down.

Example: Her friend became pregnant, and went around the internet looking for articles, etc. The internet then knew she was pregnant. However she lost the baby early on and then wasn’t able to retrace her steps and get rid of all the ads and sponsored things that were targeted at her and baby related.

As our technology gets smarter we have to ensure the experiences around data usage don’t breach any ethical, moral, or personally intrusive code.

We’re also expecting people to know what power features do in various apps, like the 3 dots that allow you to follow or unfollow an account or post on social media.

For example if you don’t want to see a Facebook ad anymore you have to click the 3 dots, go into ‘why am I seeing this ad’, and follow the path to clean up that error.

Her friend couldn’t get herself out of the ‘pregnant’ segment without going through a ridiculous amount of steps.

She asked a good question – if the internet is smart enough to detect when you’re pregnant why is it not smart enough to detect when you’re not? The words and phrases you search when you’re not pregnant should be easier to identify even than when you ARE pregnant. So why doesn’t it remove people from incorrect segments smartly?

Also people download a lot of apps that match up their situations. Example someone downloads a free app, that means you’re the product of that app. When you download ‘What to Expect’ which is a free app, they sell your data to companies like Huggies, Pampers, etc. As far as they’re concerned, you’ve ’ticked’ their privacy policy by using it, and they then feel they have no obligation to help you uncheck the tick box.

If you just delete the app because you don’t like it, you’re still in that segment forever.

Natural Cycles is an app that has the most personal data on women probably in the planet. There is certain data involved in losing a baby, and they can pick up on that. In this app you can mark yourself as pregnant or not pregnant. So what if you’d marked yourself as pregnant, and then all of a sudden mark yourselves as not? What’s crazy is that this app went through people like us for content development, designers, strategists and no one thought of this.

They asked a question around this time of difficulty that is extremely cold and selfish – they asked ‘how did you get pregnant when this app was in prevent pregnancy mode?’ and they wanted the data because they’d just become FDA approved and they wanted the data to keep themselves safe.

We are the people this stuff filters through and we’re the people that need to think through different use-cases. These experience don’t exist because they’ve simply not been designed by people like us.

We need to check that our beautifully responsive mobile-first websites and apps are built with empathy.

We’re not designing for these cases because they’re not the majority, but designing for these minority use cases can make a massive difference on how we build and design.

If you as a company are storing or doing anything with photos, our UI and UX on photos need a lot of work. Our photos can include the most personal account of our lives.

We don’t always save to reminisce – we save to give us the option to remember. The time we only have the ability to flag something as inappropriate

There’s currently a ‘hidden’ folder to ‘hide’ photos that don’t fit the type of everyday scrolling but it isn’t perfect.

So what about creating a memory vault, a personal space that is locked down, away from prying eyes, it’s not inappropriate content, it just shouldn’t sit amongst the day to day. Just an idea!

Case Study: Bloom & Wild – they send letterbox flowers. She got a Mother’s Day mass-mailer from this company and sent an email about how it would be a huge step in the right direction if they allowed her to opt-out of that specific email communication. It took a while but they did it! And it wasn’t HARD technology, it was just A TEXT LINK. This probably took about 15 minutes to implement but the internet went WILD!

When we think we can’t make a difference in this world with these small changes sometimes all we have to do is point out to these companies how they could do better, and perhaps even show them how. (Screenshots, examples, ideas…)

Book: Designing for Real Life (by Eric & Sara)

Businesses and services should be more accountable. We need to have more accountability for users having control over their experiences, with the tone of voice of our businesses coming along for the ride. We should be giving them end-to-end control of how they interact with us.

UX is not only the design of the experience o the product but the whole ecosystem we construct around it, including off-line interactions, notifications, newsletters and customer service.

Case Study: A custom furniture product that has a high dollar value. The timeline of their sales cycle emerged which was interesting because it was different than what they told themselves it was. The gaps interested her.

During the research phase you will have to unearth data that some people in a company don’t want you to find because they think you’re trying to find some flaw in their personal work.

The design/marketing/web developer section of most companies is the most hated because we’re trying to get people to try things and push things forward that are new and uncomfortable for some people.

They looked into the people that sat between the “Appointment Booked” and “Deposit Received” steps of sales to find where they went, what they were doing, and

They would call someone 3 times and if they didn’t respond they were marked as a dead lead and that was the end of marketing to them. So instead of repeating something that wasn’t working they tried something differently.

They dipped into remarking to those customers with an email to remind them what they had wanted/looked at.

Note: A lot of companies believe they control the pipeline in their process, but actually saying ‘we’re going to put a little more power in the users hands’ is scary for some companies. They feel like you’re going to unearth something they’re not equipped to deal with.

They then asked there user their preference on being contacted! Tick off whether you prefer to speak someone over the phone, or via texts/emails and minimal calls. There was the odd change someone would need to be reached by phone if there was a time-sensitive situation.

Customers were then put into 2 boxes – either a digital journey (text/email) or traditional journey. 76% of people preferred a digital journey!!

They then asked these customers lots of questions as to WHY they preferred a digital journey in exchange for an incentive (important in her opinion to say thank you).

As a result their entire sales process was entirely broken. It took a TON of man hours to fix. So being agile became very important.

It also became clear that they needed an online booking platform. They had to use an off-the-shelf booking platform to prove that they needed budget to design a custom booking platform. They then were able to roll out a full automated online booking system. They booked more online appointment in 10 days than they had booked the entirety of the previous month. They had an uplift of 60% of appointment bookings overall.

A mistake they made was not setting KPIs early-on. Key Performance Indicators. KPIs evaluate the success of an organization or of a particular activity.

This became important when launching LiveChat. They didn’t make it clear to people in the company that you had to respond INSTANTLY or the person would leave!

They were able to drop-out the mailer being sent. It was dropped into a PDF that was sent to anyone that recommended it. This decreased the time between

They went from 14 weeks to 7 days in a sales cycle simply by asking users ‘what are we doing wrong? how can we allow you a more personalized UX journey along the way?’ What is the thing that is preventing the people in your sales cycle from completing the journey/sale?


To recap:
* Respect privacy and build in a personal level of UX adjustment to each project
* Outlier data can create superfans of your products and projects
* Just because stress cases may only apply to a minority of users, don’t be scared to design for them
* Build the most empathetic experience you can



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