I’ve just been introduced to the concept of user matrices, and oh my god, I’m stoked.

Allow me to explain.

I’m a big fan of creating personas to assist with design, technology, and marketing strategies. They’re insanely helpful for decision-making processes, brainstorming, and all manner of other things. I’ve used personas for projects like:

  • Writing my book: Everything from planning the content, to finessing the tone, to building the marketing plan.
  • Mobile apps: Working with app developers to decide on features, interactivity, UX design, and community management approaches.
  • Selling real estate: No, really. In the early days of my web design firm, we did a bunch of project with real estate developers who used personas to design their condo marketing strategies. They had specific personas for each floorplan type.
  • Nonprofit communications strategies: When you’re leading a community-driven organization, you need to understand your stakeholders. Personas are a great tool for wrapping your head around the various people who contribute to your project.

I have tons to say about personas (and I’ll be writing more about them here in future), but for now I want to focus on the bright shiny toy I’ve just discovered, which goes by the very UX-y name “user matrices.” This concept comes courtesy of Steph Troeth, who credits David Rollert as the person who taught it to her. She describes it in this slide deck, but here’s my summary:

First, determine a handful of axes along which your target audience/market/community members differ. For example, the condo marketers might have axes like single-family, lower income – higher income, primary residence – secondary/revenue property, etc. Ms. Troeth uses a RunKeeper-like app as an example, and their axes are curious-engaged, social-individual, explore-compete, frequent-occasional, and visitor-local. The idea here is that people are likely to sit somewhere along the spectrum, and you want to get clear on what you’re offering to everyone, not just the people at one end or the other (or in the middle, for that matter).

Then you pick two axes, draw up a simple grid, plot an axis along the horizontal and another on the vertical, and get to work filling in the options. Single person with lower income? You’re probably more interested in a bachelor or 1BR suite near the ground floor. Single high-income? That 1BR+Den penthouse has your name on it. High-income couple with kids? How about a townhouse? And so on.

Of course, “What am I offering these people?” is only one possible question. Ask yourself what options they might be considering – not just among your offerings, but elsewhere in the market. What are their priorities? What’s motivating them? Ms. Troeth suggests asking both, “What do they want?” and “What do they need?” – which may prompt different answers.

Once you’ve filled in your grid, choose another two axes (or keep one & swap the other), and create another grid.

I’m excited about this fresh perspective. I’ve never been quite so systematic about analyzing the various differentiators for my personas, and this fills a gap I wasn’t aware of.

Do you use personas? I’d love to hear how you work with them. (And I promise to share lots more on the subject, soon.)