So, I just finished three days at Web Design World 2006, an annual usability / web design conference here in San Francisco.  Of course, near the end of a three day conference, you start to really get mentally tired of listening, and begin to look for ways to amuse yourself.  While listening to Jared Spool wax on about what makes users happy, I began to think about how I would design a church web site.

One of the tools NOT covered at this conference, but essential to an information architect in designing a site, is the persona, a “user archetype you can use to help guide decisions about product features, navigation, interactions, and even visual design.” (uie)  As I sat with wandering mind today, I imaged the personas who might interact with a church website.

You create your personas based on interviews with real people who you think will want your “product.”  Then, you synthesize this data into one or a few personas, and use them to guide your design.  The benefits of personas include
  • Preventing Self-Referential Design – Using a persona external to ourselves keeps you from making decisions based on your expertise rather than your user’s – remember – YOU are not your user.
  • Preventing User Drift – Remember, a good persona is based on real interviews, not just user qualities that a project team imagines are correct.  Having a detailed, integrated model of who your user is helps keep your design and development teams from creating for the imaginary user in *their* head – we have a detailed, mostly non-subjective model of who our user is and what they want that won’t change week to week if we’ve written it down and agreed on it.  If we want to change that model, we can.  But if we let the user definition drift in ambiguous, un-documented abstract terms, we will see all kinds of scope creep, as well as lack of integration between the visual design, content, and features of our site.
  • Promoting Deep Understanding of the User – Creating a persona with a real personality and ethnographic profile can really help your teams answer the question “what does our user want?  How do they think?  What do they like or dislike?”  It helps your team get inside the minds of your users, and often even endears them to you, helping you really empathize, identify, and therefore understand what they are wanting.
So what are the personas that you might consider for a church web site?  Consider defining a persona (or personas) for each of the users below:
  • Potential Visitor – what is a potential visitor interested in when they visit your church web site?  Directions to your location, and service times, for sure.  But are your potential visitors christians or non-christians?  The former may want to know something about your core values or statement of faith, but the latter probably have other things in mind.  But both, or either of these might want to know
    • what kind of music do they have?
    • what do they have for children?
    • do they have denominational affiliation?
    • what is their philosophy of ministry?  their statement of faith?  their value system?
    • do they have small groups?
    • what other services do they offer?  counseling?  monetary help?  food?
One important thing we learned is that, in order to gain the user’s trust, you must address their fears.  Many people have fears associated with church, including:
  • are they freaky and weird?  snake handlers?  tongue talkers?  hand-raisers?
  • are they pushy? do they have altar calls?
  • do they yell from the pulpit?
  • do they have practical teaching?
  • are visitors welcomed?  singled out?
  • how big are they?  will i stick out, or can I be anonymous?
  • are they “old-fashioned”?
  • Spiritual danielg – perhaps they found your site from a search engine.  Do you want to provide resources to help them decide what is true?   “No” is an OK answer, but you should consciously make this choice.  If you DO want to attract and serve this kind of user, will you try to convince them or serve them by giving them the information they need to make decisions?  Do you answer the questions they are asking?  Is your information optimized so that search engines can index it properly?
  • Member – What do members want from your church site?  Calendars of events?  Podcasts of sermons they missed or want to share w/ others?  Merchandise?  Online community with others in your church?
These three archetypes are the beginning of some personas we could develop for our church sites.  But we should be asking ourselves, why do we have a site?  Who is visiting, and what are they trying to accomplish?  Do  our visual design, information architecture, and content build trust and make it easy for our users to accomplish what they want, or not?  This is the start of building a good site for a church.