Spanish website translations involve a lot of moving parts. The translations themselves are obviously a significant aspect of the project, but there’s also the question of design. Do you want your English and Spanish language sites to look identical except for the words, or do you want them to each have their own look? Building “personas” has become a best practice in the world of website design, and it can help inform how you move forward with your Spanish website translations. This post will give an overview of creating Spanish website translations and personas as well as put a spotlight on what you should consider when creating personas for the Spanish language version of your website.
What are Personas?
Michelle Jackson, in a blog post for Palantir.net, defines a persona as “a hypothetical site visitor whose background, preferences and needs can inform how different website audiences might engage or interact with a website.” This means that a persona is not simply a profile of one of your actual site users. Neither is it the average of all your site users over a given period (i.e., average age of all users in one month). Personas are meant to represent individuals who might realistically visit your site based on actual user data or general data that you can realistically apply to your site’s audience (more on that soon).
How are Personas Built?
The use of data is a cornerstone of persona development: personas should never be based on internal impressions, assumptions or ideas. Building personas based on what you imagine to be true about your audience makes it far too easy to conclude that your site is already perfect the way it is. The ideal method for developing personas is to interview stakeholders and site visitors. We won’t use this post to discuss the many ways to go about that, such as on-site surveys, newsletters, etc. The list is lengthy and debating the pros and cons of each could certainly be its own blog post. It could also be a great brainstorming session for you and your team!
While interviewing your site users is always the preferred approach to creating personas, this is not always practical. Time and budget constraints are an unfortunate reality, and if those will prevent you from gathering actual user data for persona development, Jackson recommends using:
- Data that is publicly available, along with
- Authoritative secondary sources
The first resource could include data from the U.S. Census Bureau and Pew Research Center, to name a few examples, while the second could mean media sources such as newspaper and magazine articles, corporate blog posts, and industry podcasts. Media sources that cover current events and policy changes, and ideally include interviews, can give you a better idea of what your users are seeing and working with in your industry.
What should you be looking for when doing your research? Carl Martens, also writing for Palantir.net, recommends that the personas you put together each have:
- Gender identity
- Likes and dislikes
- A photo
Since your persona is not the profile of a single site user, you won’t be using real names but will draw from your research to create realistic persona profiles.
And while we’ve already made the point that the creation of personas should not be based on internal assumptions, input based on the experiences of your staff is an important resource. You’ll want to hear what the stakeholders who manage your site have to say, and customer support reps may also be able to provide useful insight. Do they find that users contact them frequently about certain questions or issues? If so, who are these questions coming from? They will probably be able to tell you why the users they come into contact with are using the site (“I don’t have an employee-sponsored health insurance plan and want to know more about my options,” or “My friend recommended your weight-loss program and I want to sign up”). Do users who have questions or complaints mention why they are frustrated or confused (“I thought I’d be able to find a dentist in my network but I couldn’t”)?
Ultimately you’ll want to combine the information you get from stakeholders, public data and media sources with site analytics that show how users are interacting with your site. For example, do they access the desktop or the mobile version? Do they spend more time on certain pages than others? If you find that users spend more time on informational pages than on conversion pages (like entering their credit card information), you could assume that these are dedicated fact-finders who, if they do sign up, make a purchase, or take some other action on your page, do not hesitate to make a commitment once they have done adequate research. If, on the other hand, they spend much more time on conversion pages than informational ones, you could imagine this persona as unconcerned with product details but hesitant to make a commitment.
Once you’ve compiled an adequate set of data, persona-building truly starts with identifying patterns. We alluded in the previous paragraph to “assuming” and “imagining” that your personas are a certain way, but really your personas are born from the patterns you observe. Martens writes that it is important to keep in mind that your personas are “about who you want to target, not everyone who comes to your site.” It does not make sense to incorporate a complaint that your customer service staff has heard one time in five years into a persona, especially if that person was looking for something that your site is not meant to provide. Things that come up over and over, however, and trends related to your target user that you find in newspaper articles, blog posts and public databases are what you want to use as the foundation for your personas. Here you can see an example from Palantir.net of a persona created using publicly available data and authoritative secondary sources.
Personas for Spanish Website Translations
When you are considering Spanish website translations, you will want to build Spanish-speaking personas. As we discussed in our last blog post on Spanish for the U.S., there is no “neutral” or “one size fits all” Spanish. And Annie Schow writes in a blog post for Palantir.net that “user experience practitioners sometimes make the mistake of creating a generic Spanish speaking persona.” Instead of making a Spanish-speaking persona as one among many personas for your site, create as many personas for your Spanish language site as you have for your English language site. According to UXPA, low health insurance enrollment rates in states with large Latino populations (California, Florida and Texas, for example) suggest that Spanish website translations alone are not enough and that cultural messaging issues also need to be addressed.
When building Spanish-speaking personas, you’ll want to keep in mind all the identifying characteristics mentioned above, as well as a few others, as suggested by Schow:
- Where were they born?
- Can they read English and Spanish?
- Do their parents speak Spanish or a local dialect?
- If they can’t read Spanish, can they understand Spanish?
Giving your personas a nationality will help you understand how they interact with your Spanish language site on both a linguistic and a cultural level. The Spanish spoken in Ecuador is different from that spoken in Chile, El Salvador or Panama, and cultural considerations will also be varied. Sensis Agency and UXPA suggest including an “acculturation” metric when creating your personas, which would help indicate the degree to which their behavior is informed by, or not informed by, U.S. culture.
Whether they can read English and Spanish has to do with a browsing behavior identified in many bilingual Internet users: they toggle between two language versions of the same page. UXPA says that the motivations behind this vary from validating translation accuracy to serving the needs of co-browsers with varying levels of proficiency in either English or Spanish. If your Spanish website translations are anything less than complete, accurate and readable you are not only doing a disservice to your users, but you are showing that neither you nor your page is trustworthy. Sensis Agency’s Hispanic Persona Project also highlights a trend they describe as “the young teach the old”: younger Hispanic ‘super users’ are helping older generations use on-line resources. This can be another significant point to keep in mind when building your personas. UXPA provides an example of a persona made up of co-browsers: a couple named Antonio and Claudia.
The benefits and drawbacks of creating a persona of co-browsers from different generations brings up some interesting questions and could be worth exploring. If your Spanish language site has been live for a long time, it could also be interesting to determine co-browsing behavior history. For example, do less tech-savvy users ultimately transition to becoming solo browsers, or does multigenerational co-browsing stay consistent? Is this because of site design, language barriers, or cultural factors? UXPA emphasizes the significance of familismo – the role families play in decision-making – in the context of healthcare, which might explain certain co-browsing behavior.
If you haven’t created user personas for your website, we’d encourage you to give it a try! And if you have them developed for your English language, but not your Spanish language, site, you are likely missing out on ways to better serve your Spanish-speaking users. Things like motivations, needs, pain points and browsing behaviors can all be informed by language and culture, and we think you’ll find that mapping these for your Spanish-speaking audience will help improve the functionality of your Spanish language website.
Inéz Salazar, S. & Romano Bergstrom, J. Spanish Language Personas: Informing the Design of Healthcare Websites. 2014. https://uxpamagazine.org/spanish-language-personas/
Jackson, M. & Schow A. ¿Patacones o Tostones? 31 July 2017. https://www.palantir.net/blog/patAnnacones-o-tostones
Jackson, M. Data-Driven Website Personas: A Cost-Effective Approrach. 11 July 2016. https://www.palantir.net/blog/data-driven-website-personas-cost-effective-approach
Martens, C. How to Build a Strong Project Foundation with Practical Personas. 5 April 2016. https://www.palantir.net/blog/how-build-strong-project-foundation-practical-personas
Sensis Agency. Hispanic Persona Project. 20 April 2011. https://www.slideshare.net/sensisagency/sensis-hispanic-persona-project-7688051