User Personas according to their creator Alan Cooper are “hypothetical archetypes of the actual users. Although they are imaginary, they are defined with significant rigor and precision.” Another fantastic definition I came across was from UXPlanet where persona was defined as “a simple tool to create your product with a specific target user in mind rather than a generic one. It’s a representation of the real target audience data, gathered in previous research such as user interview.” A more simple definition is offered by Interaction Design who cites personas as “fictional characters, which you create based upon your research in order to represent the different user types that might use your service, product, site, or brand in a similar way.
How important are user personas in the product design?
User Personas are so important that I don’t recommend starting any design project without it. They serve a variety of uses in the success of any digital product and I have outlined 5 of them below.
- Provide a face to the end-users- empathy plays a large role in the design and putting a face and a name to the end-user helps in creating user-centric designs.
- Helps to stay clear of design bias- we are all humans and its very natural to fall back to designs that we are favorable towards and not of those who the product is being designed for. Personas serve as a constant reminder of who the end-users are and of the functionalities that should be included in the final design.
- An easier narrative for stakeholders- personas are simple and easy to understand which is why they are useful for explaining the end-users goals of the product to the client, stakeholders or other internal teams such as developers and QA.
- Helps with prioritizing the requirements- product design and development is a time-consuming affair in which most clients prefer to launch as soon as possible. Having user personas help with identifying the requirements that need to be provided in the early stages.
- Faster design iterations– when the team shares and agrees on the end-users, it creates a sense of unity and cohesiveness, increasing the velocity of the design process.
Here is how I created my first persona
I was once approached by a client who was looking to create an app that can help people discover events near them. The idea sounded great, there was a real demand for such a product and plenty of design inspirations from globally successful apps. My next step, therefore, was to have a sit down with the client on the types of end-users they were looking at and how to prepare for an interview.
One of the targets the client would like to engage with were students. After the selection and recruitment process, the next step was to conduct a semi-structured interview in order to find details such as:
- Who they are (profile);
- What they do, when and where (context);
- Why they do it (needs, goals, tasks) ;
- How they do it (experience);
- What they like or dislike (frustrations)
This is a snapshot of the user persona I have created after several interviews with students.
Source – Kacper Kowalski on Behance
What do you think? Sounds pretty simple right?
Not quite, as the creation of the user personas is a very data-driven process that must be approached distinctly. I have described 7 common mistakes that I have dealt with during my first approach.
1. Botching the data collection
The respondent does not seem to be a good fit. Sourced from Sketchport
The user personas are created of the conversations/interviews with the end-users and of internal stuff that they interact with. This data collection needs to be conducted strategically to increase the chances of creating a user persona that is as close to the individuals that were interviewed. A couple of tips I recommend here is
- Create a set of questions you’d like to ask. Remember that the conversation should be semi-structured to allow for the conversation to go off-script if it’s needed. Such conversations in my experience have yielded the best insights for creating user personas.
- Do a check-in with yourself to ensure you are asking the questions to get the answers you might be seeking. Remember not to manipulate or guide the respondents to hear answers that might match any existing notions or biases you might already possess.
- Take notes and/or record the interview to ensure no information is lost
- Do the interview yourself as hiring someone who has very little idea of why particular information will be useful is a waste of resources.
- Stick to the time allocated. 15 minutes on average is enough time to ensure you receive the information you might be seeking. This, however, is not set in stone and can be lengthened depending on the quality of the information you are receiving.
2. Creating too many personas
How many are too many? Picture sourced from Lorenzo Zecchin – Dribbble
A user persona’s core purpose is to narrow and give a good idea of the end-users for the team who are working on its design and development. This understanding of the end-users is what molds the app’s functionality, look and feel. 2-3 different personas types should be just enough.
It makes sense to take the needs and pain points of an individual such as Maria who is looking to spend some extra time out with her friends since she does not like taking part in activities by herself.
3. Ignoring the negative personas
Know the wrong type to isolate the right type. Sourced from Audience Ops
Negative personas as you might have guessed are those that must not be considered as the final target audience at all. Creating such a persona and segregating the needs of those who will not use our product provides a clearer focus on the needs of those we should cater to. This gives the team a sense of clarity and keeps the design and development neatly aligned with the user personas.
4. Placing personal bias over research
Don’t be like this guy. Just don’t. Sourced from chainsawsuit
There is no space for personal bias in the creation of data-backed user personas as any wrong assumptions can give rise to a product that your end-users will not be attracted to. User personas as I keep on harping is a semi-fictional representation of the majority of the end-users of any digital product. I used the word semi-fictional there as the personas we create are based on the understanding of user data, behaviors and demographics gathered from real individuals. Such research allows us to discover and ensure that the real needs and pain points of our end-users are on top of mind during all the stages of the product design.
5. Not looking for updated data
Your user personas, like your users, should not stay the same. Sourced from Lucidchart
Human needs and pain points are what forms the cornerstone of user personas. What is important to remember, however, is that what the end-users need and get frustrated by today will not remain constant and can change over time. The user personas you create therefore need to be updated over time.
It might be tempting to stick with the same user personas, but updated insights into your end-users are vital when releasing updated versions of your product.
6. Thinking user personas = demographics
See the difference? Sourced from Hurree
Demographic information is important, but it is not the only thing that should be inserted in your user personas. What makes a user persona powerful is the psychographic information that was discovered during the conversations with the end-users, sales teams and anyone who interacts with the end-users. Make sure to research into questions such as what the end-user is doing, their average day, challenges, hobbies and any other information which would be useful.
7. Creating personas and not using them
Put them up where you can see them. Sourced from – UXbooth
This is a cardinal sin in my opinion and there is nothing worse than creating a persona that gathers dust (the personas made on assumptions and not data-backed research comes close). Remember that creating user personas involve a sizable amount of work and can go a long way towards the success of your product. Keeping these user personas at the forefront of everything related to the product is therefore useful and helps keep the product user-focused.
Having trouble remembering the personas? A handy trick I’ve found useful is to print them and stick them up on the walls and/or wherever I and the team will be working on. Just make sure these don’t get mixed with the negative personas!
I am as you might have guessed a big fan of user personas as I’ve seen how they shape the product creation. The right user persona can change the trajectory of a product from beginning to end and give rise to a product the actual users will love. I’ve also heard horror stories from other designers on how products earmarked as successes flopped due to bad data collection and interpretation.
Creating user personas isn’t easy, but it is definitely a worthwhile investment, provided you do it right. I hope this piece of writing helps you do exactly that.
Header image credits- Wikipedia