Why user personas are critical to the design process and how to start implementing them effectively.

What Are User Personas?

Personas are researched groupings of behavioural user traits. They are developed to narrow the scope when designing or developing a product. We all know you can’t design for everyone but how can you create an effective, scalable product that translates for a wide range of users?

A persona represents a cluster of users who exhibit similar behavioral patterns in their purchasing decisions, use of technology or products, customer service preferences, lifestyle choices, and the like. Behaviors, attitudes, and motivations are common to a type regardless of age, gender, education, and other typical demographics.

Kevin O’Connor

Personas are a great reference for design, marketing, product and sales teams when developing a feature on an existing product or when diving into a totally new objective. By creating archetypes of different user segments you can design with purpose to help achieve specific end goals.

Why Are Personas Effective?

A user persona can act as a touchpoint for your team, making sure your project is on track to solve problems with the real users in mind. It allows your team to practice empathy when creating features for one persona knowing that it will satisfy the needs a much larger group of users.

The purpose of personas is to create reliable and realistic representations of your key audience segments for reference.

usability.gov

Using personas will allow your team to prioritise the work based on achieving the end goals of your users on a more manageable scale. It can also help to uncover opportunities for product features during the interview process.

Designing for personas helps to keep the team focused and can aide in user testing throughout the project lifespan.

How To Create And Implement User Personas

In his article A Closer Look At Personas: A Guide To Developing The Right Ones (part 2) Shlomo Goltz outlines the process of creating user personas. Here is a summarized version to get you started in your research.

Who are your users?
In an existing company this is where you can look at your traditional market research as a starting point. If you are starting fresh check out your competition – who is using their product?

Plan your interview
Write out your interview questions beforehand. Open-ended questions are better, but actually observing your user complete a task is best. This will give you insight into not only what the user is saying they need but what is actually going on when that need arises.

Observe to understand
Side-by-side testing is of the utmost importance. You can gain valuable insight by sitting next to your users while they are testing your product. This also opens the door to practising empathic design. Once you’ve watched your users struggle with a task you aren’t likely to put the same barriers in their way again.

Finding patterns
Go through your research and determine which users have similar attributes or behaviours. What commonalities did you see that kept coming forward? What common goals or use cases were there? Once you’ve analysed each subject you can take a step back and look at any patterns that emerge. Each different pattern represents a separate persona.

Creating personas
Your personas should include a name or descriptive title, demographic, and dominant traits. It can include their typical day, but most importantly it addresses their end goals. Knowing their goals helps to ascertain what is most relevant when considering your design.

Share personas with your team
Create a concise document for your team to review and have on hand. It will help gain focus across the different disciplines.

Conclusion

Creating user personas should be done at the onset of a new product or feature. It will help guide the decision making as well as act as an evaluation tool. A new set of personas should be created for each new product you develop.

Personas development belongs at the beginning of the project, as personas can inform site functionality, help uncover gaps, or highlight new opportunities.

usability.gov

By developing personas you are insuring that you’re addressing the needs of a wide range of users but in a manageable, focused manner. Working with user personas creates better communication within your organization as your user’s goals become that of the team.

Sources Personas: The Foundation of Great User Experience, An Introduction to Personas and how to create them, Personas, Personas 101: What Are They and Why Should I Care?, A Closer Look At Personas: A Guide to Developing The Right Ones (part 2)