How to get clients to look at wireframes properly

collage of many faces
A number of places offer free Avatars for persona testing. This selection comes from the Free Avatar Pack by Place It

It was the same old story. I was working with Whitney Quesenbery on some wireframes for a client’s website. As usual, she’d done a lovely job on the design. As usual, I’d fussed around with content. We’d done our usual cross-checking and refinement. Proudly, we emailed them off.

And nothing happened.

We gently reminded the client that we needed their comments.

And nothing happened.

Now, I don’t blame the client here. It’s an important website but they had a lot going on that was higher priority. And perhaps it was better to have no response than a rushed one. But here we were, needing to move forward, and we had to find a way to do it. Sound familiar?

Personas came to my rescue

Last year, I wrote about persona-led heuristic inspection, the technique developed by Ginny Redish and Dana Chisnell to solve some of the problems of heuristic inspections of websites. And I’ve been using a similar technique for ages as the basis of expert reviews of forms.

So we thought: maybe a persona-led inspection could work as a way of getting our clients to look at our wireframes. So we did, it was a success, we had our feedback.

Hmm… that wasn’t much of a story, was it? So let’s dig into it a little deeper.

Step 1: decide on your personas

Decide on a set of personas that you will use for the meeting. This was very easy for us, because we already have a well-developed set of personas for this client. All we had to do was ensure everyone at the meeting had access to a copy.

If you don’t have any yet, you’ll need to create some ‘assumptive personas’: short stories about people that you create by completing the blanks in these sentences:

Today, ___________ (someone’s name) decided to ____________ (task related to your wireframes) because ___ (appropriate pronoun) wanted to ____________________________ (reason why the person is doing the task).

When ___________ (person’s name) decided to do this task, ___ (appropriate pronoun) was __________, _________, and ________ (adjectives about that person’s mental state, such as busy, anxious, angry, curious, or tired).

I often get the clients in the meeting to help with making the assumptive personas. It’s a good way to start the meeting, and helps everyone to be clear about the assumptions we all have about people who use the things we make.

Step 2: invite your clients

Ask a small selection of appropriate clients to attend a meeting. It might be helpful to aim for a mixture of areas represented. You want a review of wireframes, not a big discussion of general project progress or whatever, so make it clear that’s why they’re coming.

We had five people at the meeting: two of us, three of them. They had different levels of knowledge of the website in question, and that worked well. I think I’d try to keep to a fairly small, mixed group another time.

Step 3: pick a persona

Each attendee chooses a persona to concentrate on for the purposes of the meeting. No method acting is required – just making sure that each attendee tries to look at each page from the specific point of view of the chosen persona.

We let the least experienced attendee have ‘first pick’, and as you might expect she chose the persona who was most similar to herself. You might want to do the opposite, and get people to choose someone the least like themselves. I think perhaps it doesn’t really matter: it’s choosing one specific persona to concentrate on that seems to be important.

Step 4: make a silent choice of click – then discuss

Show everyone the first page of the wireframes. Ask each attendee to decide, silently, where their persona would click. Then discuss the choices and anything else you feel like discussing on that page.

Choose the most popular first click, and repeat the process on the page that click leads to.

Repeat until you’ve covered all the pages that you’re interested in.

The ‘silent choice’ thing seemed to be rather important for us. Because it was a face-to-face meeting, we gave out printed copies of the wireframes and asked people to mark their copy, so there wasn’t any change of heart when they heard what other people chose. And we got a good variety of choices and feedback on them. But if you’re not all in the same place, then you can ask attendees to note their choice each time before you start the discussion.

The results were great

We got through an amazing amount of material in a two-hour meeting, with plenty of useful suggestions. The clients had really concentrated on the wireframes and given us good feedback on them. And most importantly, the ‘review wireframes’ task was deleted from everyone’s to-do list – happiness all round.