Ordinarily, user profiling is conducted by formally surveying a statistically representative sample of the user population. Interviewing a few “expert informants” who are familiar with the needs and characteristics of a range of users can also provide valuable data in a fraction of the time needed for distributing and analyzing a survey instrument. However, “experts” on design teams occasionally hold mistaken beliefs about users, so the resulting user profiles may not be as reliable. Choosing the right approach for your organization should balance the costs of conducting a user profiling survey against the risks of developing a system based on false assumptions about the users.
We recommend profiling your user base even before you collect data about your target users’ work environments and tasks. Creating user profiles allows you to identify the categories of users who will be using the system most frequently or who may have high risk use cases, thus concentrating the most efficient allocation of your development resources. However, it’s a good idea to reassess your user profiles periodically, because demographic or economic shifts may alter the requirements of your user population.
Assistance from an experienced researcher will help ensure that the user profile data you collect will be accurate, objective, and relevant to your project, whether by aiding you with the design, administration, or analysis of a user profiling questionnaire, or by conducting interviews with user representatives.