Designing content for customer mindsets

Working with customer mindsets is an alternative to persona-based content design. A customer mindset approach focuses on the user’s frame of mind and the task that has brought them to our website

Thinking of users in terms of personas has been the default starting position for content and UX practitioners for the past two decades.   

Because we've come to accept this as standard practice for developing content, I'll state upfront – this isn't the approach we decided to take. We don't use personas to design content for 

Our decision to move away from this approach was due to the many personas (over 70) that we collected at our first callout for research. Consolidating the personas would have been a mammoth task and we had hundreds of sites ahead of us.

“Personas are created by people who don’t know their customers. If you knew your customers, why would you need personas.” Gerry McGovern

And, as Gerry McGovern asks, do you need to identify your customers if you know them? We know we have a diverse population of more than 8 million people. We also know that segmenting them into clearly defined customer groups would not represent everyone. 

We needed a more practical approach. 

Our starting point – ‘jobs to be done’

We have embraced a simple model for creating content: customer mindsets and archetypes. 

While these are broad starting points, they are easy to understand and apply. Importantly, they allow us to collect, organise and connect related content based on a jobs-to-be-done framework. We focus on delivering content to the user as quickly and efficiently as possible, to help them complete their task.

Our customer mindsets

Our three customer mindsets are:

  • do
  • seek
  • say


Designing content for a ‘do’ mindset, might include 

  • a page summary that explains what task the user can do 
  • in-page navigation and call-to-action buttons, giving a rapid path through the content
  • structuring content in a stepped approach
  • using the journalistic pyramid, with the most important information at the top. 

For a ‘seek’ mindset, layering the content will help the customer get to the information they need without having to read from start to finish. This can be done by 

  • offering key points or highlights at the top of the page
  • providing subheadings that include keywords 
  • including links to related information in context. 

The ‘say’ mindset describes a customer who wants to engage with the NSW Government on an issue. Customer pathways might include 

  • learning about a project in order to contribute to a community consultation
  • contacting a minister by completing a feedback form
  • reading news articles and media releases and responding through our social media channels. 

So, rather than focus on multiple, fictional personas and how we might cater for each of them, we structure content around the user goal. We ask questions about why the user came to the site today, what problem they are trying to solve, and what is the job to be done.

Our archetypes

Once we understand the reason for a customer coming to our website (do, seek, say) we need a context for their visit so we can meet their needs. This is where our four archetypes come in:

  • citizen
  • business
  • visitor
  • public servant.

Using archetypes means thinking about the customer’s situation, defined as 

  • a citizen, being a person who has rights and obligations as an individual living in NSW
  • a business, being a legal entity with employees and customers, products and/or services
  • a visitor, someone who is in NSW for a short period of time
  • a public servant, being an employee of the state and someone with at least a basic understanding of how government works. 

Designing the content using this approach doesn't aim to meet the individual needs of every person who might align with these archetypes, nor do we imagine the audience will fit neatly into any grouping. They don’t.  But, together with mindsets, archetypes offer a consistent and scalable way to approach content design for the consolidation of more than 500 websites using a distributed authoring model.  

How do personas and archetypes differ?


Citizen in NSW Persona
  • Is recognised as a resident of NSW
  • Has rights under NSW law
  • Has obligations under NSW law
  • Is entitled to certain benefits as a NSW resident
  • Is a customer of NSW Government services
  • Has demographic characteristics: age, gender, education, income
  • Has needs specific to one or more community groups
  • Represented by a fictional name and avatar
  • Not a real person but is an amalgam of customer research


Tips for creating customer-centric content for mindsets

Always start with the user need 

To guide the content design, we start with the user need, expressed as a user story or job story. It’s our response to the user’s goal. It’s simple, focused, concise and active.

A user story works particularly well when there are multiple archetypes and mindsets for the task that differ significantly from one another.

As a… [the archetype]
I need/want/expect to… [the user’s task or need]
So that… [the goal: the reason for the task]

Use a job story to respond to the user’s need when there is one kind of user or when multiple types of users have the same outcome in mind. 

When … [describe the situation]
I want to … [the user’s task or need)
So … [the goal: the reason for the task]

Understand your mindset and biases

Our work is mediated by our experiences, by what we know and don’t know, and by what we like and don’t like. This can influence how we prioritise, structure and design content, and how we select the customer feedback that needs our attention. 

To create customer-centric content, we need to recognise and understand how our biases influence our work as content creators. We should always ask ourselves ‘why we are doing it this way’ and when we are considering design direction, we should always question whether we are meeting the user need or responding to an opinion.

Make your content work hard, not the user

Each piece of content needs to have a clear purpose that is self-evident. When a user lands on a page they need to know they are in the right place and it should be easy for them to find how to complete their task. 

It’s up to you as the writer to do the work to make it as easy as possible for the user to complete their task.

Lose the fluff

Heads up, users know when you’re trying to market to them. Over the first six months of the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve had more than 14 million users visit our new website and this has given us some valuable insights into what users want, and don’t want. Users that come to our site can be busy, stressed, tired or angry. They don’t want to feel like they are being sold or marketed to. They want facts, ‘without the fluff’. 

Keep this in mind not only when you’re writing your content but also when you’re structuring it. Don’t make users scroll to the bottom of a page to get an answer because you think they should read everything else first. They might be a subject expert or a frequent visitor to the page, so get out of the way and make it easy for them to complete the task, the way they want to.

Put the customer first

As a provider of essential services to millions of people, we owe it to our customers to write with a positive and helpful mindset. 

Our customers don’t want bureaucratic speak, jargon and acronyms. And they certainly don’t want patronising or inhumane language or tone creeping into content.  

Using archetypes and mindsets to frame our work can help us to be clear, direct, factual and kind, and ultimately to help a real person get a task done. 

Learn more

Sarah Winters, “Content Design”
Gerry McGovern, “Top Tasks: a how-to guide”
Kristina Halvorson and Melissa Rach, “Content Strategy for the Web”
Gov.UK, “Content and publishing: detailed information”

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