How to Apply User Personas to Improve Exploratory Testing
  February 12, 2018

As a software tester, your job is to advocate for the end user. However, when there are thousands or even millions of end users, how can we be sure that we’re keeping in mind their differences?

While advocating for each and every user may be an impossibility, adopting persona-based testing may be the key to deriving more accurate insights for your exploratory tests. By paying attention to the details that give different end users unique experiences, you can curate a more intelligent approach to testing for them.

Sometimes personas are supplemented with pictures of the person and detailed descriptions of everything from hobbies to the number of pets they have. While these can help to paint a complete picture, you may want to start with some of the essentials.

In order to begin building your user personas, consider the following when it comes to determining how visitors are using your web application:

  • Age - Does your product or service target a mix of ages, or is it geared toward users that are older or younger? Younger users are more technically savvy -- many have grown up using the internet, so navigating the web comes naturally to them from social media to online shopping. However, while they may be more equipped at handling complex features, often their standards are higher and patience is thinner. They will not stick around for complicated forms or slow load times but will leave your site for a sleeker user experience. While older generations may be less impatient, on the other hand, they also may be less likely to get around more intricate components. They also may be on older browsers and operating systems, which could render your application useless if not accounted for. When it comes to making their experience better, you want to think simple and straightforward. Taking into account the range of user behavior solely based on age, it’s easy to see why it’s an important element to consider when thinking of personas.
  • Job/Role - What does the person do, and what are they using it for that will influence their decision? For example, if you own an office supplies website, you may have two 30-year-old women visiting your website in the span of an hour -- does that mean they should be tested for the same way? What if one woman is coming to the site as a freelance writer at a small magazine and one is coming in as an office manager for a major enterprise? They’re going to be looking for two different outcomes and have two different experiences. The freelancer may be looking for a few single items such as a pack of pens, a notebook, and a binder. The manager may be looking to bulk order supplies -- what happens when she puts in an order for 300 office chairs and 600 monitors? Can the application handle these requests in the same way as a single item? That may be just one difference the two women encounter going through these process, and you want to assess those possibilities.
  • Accessibility - Accessibility can be an overlooked part of software testing, but considering different challenges people may have when it comes to user personas can be helpful. For example, many men are prone to color blindness, which means something as simple as a color choice could make or break the experience for someone. Users that are hard of hearing may rely on image attributes and labeled form fields. Even just having a slight mobility impairment or vision loss could affect the way an application is experienced, especially when it comes to responsive design and mobile device usage. Once you realize these obstacles are common for a variety of people, it becomes important to make accessibility part of your persona-based testing.
  • Geolocation - Looking at demographics is a great way to understand personas, but it’s not just limited to age and gender; it also includes looking at where people are in the world. In fact, where someone’s looking at your site from has a big influence on how they’ll use it. Keep in mind Hofstede’s cultural dimension theory to determine what different cultures prioritize in order to apply that to your personas and application testing. Look at how McDonald’s changes its web design to accommodate a cross-cultural experience to understand how geolocations can apply to persona-based testing. Depending on where you have customers coming from, these preferences may change how you want to relay your website. Even something like network latency will affect how people from different countries experience your application, so you may want to see what it looks like through the eyes of a different country.
  • Behavior - Some personas can’t be pinned down by hard facts -- sometimes you have to get creative imagining the ways different people might use your application. For example, knowing someone’s job title won’t tell you that they have a tendency to open multiple tabs and windows at once, keeping a shopping car that’s ready to check out open on their computer for days at a time. It won’t tell you that someone may enter illegal inputs or never remember their password. As critical as it is to collect data on your customers and create personas that accurately represent your users, part of being a great tester is also thinking outside the box to give those personas depth that includes quirky behavior. Oftentimes, it may seem useless to test an action that you wouldn’t expect anyone to perform, but that sequence could be the one that breaks the the computer glitch that let someone buy nothing from McDonald’s for 99 cents.


Persona-based testing helps you step out of your preconceived notions about how people use an application to think about how they could use it.

Recently, we made an infographic about the different personas you should use in exploratory testing. While specific attributes may differ from team to team in order to paint an accurate representation of users, we believe these personas will give you a better understanding of all the ways that people can push an application to its limits.

Check out Exploratory Testing Playbook: 7 Personas Your Team Should Be Testing For and join us on a visual safari to determine who you should be testing for and how to test for them.