When working on a team, it is important to keep everybody on the same page. And as the main purpose of a project is solving problems for its users so the application is useful, there should be a document or documents that provide information about the users. This is when personas or user archetypes come to play. Personas are a fictional representation of your target users. You don’t need to take one of your users and use the same data. That is one of the mistakes new designers make by thinking that persona needs to be an actual person. You will generate a persona that matches your target audience without using the personal information of an actual user. Just take the general demographics of the users as the base of your personas.
We can see personas as a document that describes the people that will be using the website or application. Personas show the expectations, goals, motivations, and tasks of the users and serve as a reminder of who we are building or designing the application for.
What are the benefits of using personas?
The first benefit is that we are going to know and understand the needs of our users. Also, it allows us to communicate within the team when discussing features because we can talk about whether a feature could affect or benefit a particular persona.
Another reason is communicating with stakeholders. This is very similar to the communication within the team. However, we can also use personas as a deliverable and that can allow us to accept or reject features proposed by the stakeholders. Clients are not always right and if a feature hurts the user experience of one of our personas, we need to discuss it with the stakeholders and find solutions.
People use our websites or applications to perform a task. Thus, the personas are a reminder of what is important and what should take priority. In this case, personas serve as a scope of the base tasks that need to be developed and what tasks should take priority over others.
Build empathy with personas
We make decisions about design and technology using personas. For example, if one persona represents a senior citizen, we are going to make design and technology decisions that should allow this user to perform the task with ease. For example, increasing the font size to make the text more readable. We need to consider that to keep the Human-Centered Design approach, we need to use personas to understand the users.
Also, once you have personas, you could use the same details to recruit usability testers for your application. So, the personas will work as a blueprint for the users that you will get when testing the applications with actual users.
Who are personas for?
Well, they are for everyone involved in the creation of the application. As mentioned previously, it helps us to communicate with the crew and the stakeholders and as a reminder of who we are designing for. Thus, the audience of personas must be the entire team.
Drawbacks of Personas
Like everything in life, personas have some issues and we have to be very careful. Personas have the potential of being misused in the UX process. They are just a tool to help you understand the users. This can give you a false sense of understanding of the actual users and to believe that you don’t need to test your work with real people. Along with the misuse by designers, some personas get dated because they don’t evolve with the product. So, when you gather new information about your users, you need to update your personas to keep them effective and relevant. Don’t think of personas as the output of your research but as the input of your design in the Human-Centered Design process.
Additionally, it could lead to stereotypes if we are not careful with them. We have to make sure to validate our personas with real data to avoid stereotypes. Sometimes, the designer will be putting attention to irrelevant information about the product and persona. For example, if you are building a web application for accountants, their favorite ice cream is not relevant at all. Thus, we need to concentrate on information that helps to understand the users. This irrelevant information is just a waste of time and must be avoided.
How to create a Persona?
Everything starts with data. After you meet with your stakeholders, you go out and prepare research on users’ motivations, interests, and environments. Then, you can create the personas with that information. So, personas should be based on real data. It is fine starting with assumptions based on your meetings with the stakeholders during the early stages of the product. Nevertheless, personas must be supported by research to be effective.
The personas based on assumptions are called Proto-personas which are a guess of what the users should be and there is not enough time or budget to invest in research. But, even though this is just guesswork by the team, it is better than nothing because it keeps the focus and the team can discuss features without getting out of scope.
The other personas are based on the research which is the right way to do it. This could be interviews, surveys, data from the marketing department, etc.
Components of a Persona
Now, to create a persona, what information do we need? Well, it depends because different companies and UX experts use different information for their personas. However, you need to make sure that the information you put in the personas is relevant to your product.
A typical persona should contain a photo. I like to use a real person instead of an Icon or cartoon because that helps to build empathy and put a face to the data. In addition, it helps to remember the personas when discussing features within the team. Also, If possible, use a picture with the persona using the product. This will give you insights into how and where the product will be used by the target audience. For example, if your main users are stay-home parents, your application might be used from the living room or kitchen table, and maybe kids playing in the background. The picture should not be in an office because it does not match your target users.
Other basic information like name, occupation, education, and even location are a nice addition. The name makes it easier to remember when discussing with a team and gives a name to the face of the persona. A quote based on the research is very useful because it shows what is important for the persona and the state of mind when using the product. A good quote, for example, could be “I don’t want to be in front of the computer browsing for hours. I just want to search for what I want and buy it quickly”.
A short biography of the user is a good idea because it gives the persona some personality and background. Relevant demographic information is always useful but as I mentioned before, be careful in not creating stereotypes. You can go even further when adding information to the personas to make them believable. But, make sure that you are adding relevant information.
Other sections for your personas are user motivations, user goals, the technical level of expertise, online and offline activities that might be relevant to the product, and salary range.
Your personas need constant validation to have an accurate representation of the people using your product. At first, you might start with assumptions as mentioned previously, but personas need to be updated from your research or from data coming from the marketing department, customer service, etc.
Lastly, personas are necessary for us to learn about the users and work as a team to satisfy their needs with our product. They should be based on research and they are not disposable. We must keep updating them as the application evolves over time.
You can download an example of a Persona, and I hope you found it useful for your projects.