Goals and Personas

Development Process

In order to better understand the user group, the team interviewed five mail merge users with a range of experience, expertise, age, and occupation. All of the users performed mail merges with Microsoft Word.

While the team chose to solely interview people working in or attending an academic institution for increased accessibilty, it believes that its conclusions are applicable to mail merge users in general. The interviewees took advantage of all of the prominent mail merge functionality available in Microsoft Word. In addition, they used mail merge for the same tasks which other users would likely use it, such as adding mailing addresses to labels and letters or personalizing saluations.

After each interview, the team briefly discussed interesting discoveries from that interview. These brief discussions served as the basis for our list of goals. The goals came directly from things that users repeatedly mentioned in the interviews, and comprise the following list:

Saving time was the "dancing bear" of mail merge. Even though many users felt that the system was diffucult, they also felt that the frustration was worth the time saved. References to relationship building varied the most among users. One user spoke a great deal about the extensive effort that she put in to conveying the right feeling with her choice of personalizations. Other users did not mention this aspect at all. However, all users did talk about the need for accuracy. This goal led them to perform verification at various steps throughout the mail merge process. Finally, it was obvious from the users' negative and positive reactions to their current mail merge process that ease of use was also a highly valued goal.

These goals, the diversity of the user group, and the common tasks performed by the users drove the creation of three personas. The team first established these personas' mail merge characteristics, described in the personas section below. Next, the team created a collage for each persona with a stock picture, clippings from magazines, and words and phrases. These representations of the personas were created to make them easier to relate to and understand. Pictures of these collages are also in the personas section below.

Goals Description

Saving Time

Saving time is the primary purpose of mail merge. The other three goals could be accomplished by manually editing letters, labels, or emails with information for each recipient, but doing so would take much longer than it does with mail merge. Therefore, if the time that it takes to complete mail merges can be shortened, all users will immediately recognize the benefit.

Relationship Building

Depending on why users personalize documents, this goal's importance varies. Users sensitive to the the emotional response of recipients go to great lengths to support this goal. In addition to the correct name and address, they also want the correct formality and feel. In contrast, users who are concerned primarily with delivering factual information tend to focus on the goal of accuracy more than relationship building.


Accuracy is an essential goal for all users. It is related to saving time, because verifying accuracy is currently a very time consuming task. It is also related to relationship building, because accurate information increases positive reactions from recipients.

Ease of Use

Ease of use is mostly communicated through users' frustrations. They know that improving the system or understanding it better could make mail merge faster and more useful, but they are not interested in taking the time to do this personally. As one user said, "I don't have time to figure out what's causing [problems with mail merge]."

Personas Description

The team chose to create three personas named Vivian, Violet, and Victor, because it was the minimum number of personas which could capture all of the important characteristics of the user group. For example, the team felt that three different age groups—represented by the young and newly trained Vivian, slightly older and more experienced in business Victor, and seasoned with extensive mail merge experience Violet—sufficiently described the large majority of mail merge users.

Vivian's Collage


Vivian is a twenty-six year old administrative assistant for Adobe Systems. She grew up in Iowa City, where she went to community college and recieved a degree in office management. She primarily uses mail merge for labelling and letter headers on mass mailings.

Vivian's Collage


A fifty-seven year old development director for MassEquality, Violet uses mail merge to keep in contact with her vast rolodex of contacts and to find new donors. She performed mail merge using a type writer before computers were available. Though she has been around, Violet stays hip and connected.

Vivian's Collage


Victor is a mid-level manager at Kroll, an electronic data recovery firm. He is driven by efficiency, and uses mail merge to send infomation to his employees. Victor is excited and energetic, but he has a no-nonsense professionalism that keeps him on track.