What is a persona

It is a imaginary yet detailed and realistic descriptions of the users of your product. In UCD personas are created after the user research. Whereas in Lean UX methods personas are originally created based on assumptions(proto-personas) brainstorming session with the team. Later these proto-personas are checked against real data to refine them. Personas help designers in transforming the user into concrete people.

Personas must answer these basic questions - what are the user needs, wants and limitations. These representations should be based on qualitative and some quantitative user research and web analytics.

More than just a deliverable

While a persona is usually presented as single-page document, it is more than just a deliverable. It is a way to summarize and communicate the research details to other team members who were absent during the user research. The process of transferring knowledge about the users is more important than the document itself. This articles focuses more about what personas are and why they are beneficial. To read about how effectively you can create personas please refer to this article.

Why should you use personas ?

Personas have been used by designers since the mid 90s and has become a very popular technique since then. As a UX Designer, personas are one of the best methods that I have found which can improve the consistency and quality of the work that we do. When I started using personas it seemed as a distraction
from the real work until I actually witnessed them being used properly and to their full potential.

The document that captures the essential elements of a persona and the persona itself are not the same. Many novice designers try to figure out the best way to make a persona document and to lose sight of the bigger picture, which is to fully understand a user and communicate these details with others. For creating persona document I highly recommend taking a look at the persona poster template by Creative Companion. This template organizes and formats all of the important information that a designer would need to create an amazing one-page deliverable.

How to use them effectively ?

For every one designer I have met who has benefited from persona driven design, I have met another who is completely against using this technique. Its either 0% or 100%. Either I see people using this very effectively or seeing this is as a waste of time. I wanted to probe more into why it works well for some set of designers and tried to understand how efficiently they exploit this methodology.

With some research it because very clear that design who benefited from personas:

  • Knew when to use them and more importantly when not to use them.
  • Did not see them as just a single page deliverable, rather they saw it as a communication tool.
  • They weren’t just using it in inception, personas were living till the end of the project and were used in all discussions and meetings.

Like every other design technique I wanted to experiment with personas and see how well it works for me. I was against the belief that personas are totally invaluable and felt that if we know when and how to use them effectively, it can be a useful technique to build a more consistent and user focused design. it is recommended to create them at the beginning of the project, as they can inform site functionality, help uncover gaps, or highlight new opportunities.

Things to keep in mind

The design team should strive to create one primary persona that represents the core users of the product. Secondary personas can be created, however their end goals shouldn’t deviate too much from the primary persona. The product should be built for the primary persona and adjusted for secondary personas.

The persona is only as good as the research behind it. The persona is a single fictional person that is made up from a synthesis of many customer interviews and contextual analysis.

A persona should never be build based on market research and intuitive whims. This can happen when the team thinks they know who their users before even researching about them or when are not ready to get out of the building. To know more about how mush time would it take to create personas, refer to this article.

When are personas not needed

The product owners could be building products for two kinds - for themeselves, for others. In the first case persona development in this case isn’t necessary because the builders of the product are its users. It is often a waste of time if the designer or team is building something that solves their own problems or fulfills their own needs. In the second case we have 2 cases again - for others like product owners, others unlike product owners. In either case it is recommended to proceed with persona development because like or unlike is subjective and might be based on assumptions. But when you have lack of resources and you are sure that the kinds of people you are designing for are similar to you, it is fine to let go of persona development.

Why are personas helpful

Empathy

Crafting a persona is designing a lens through which you will be able to see how your users perceive the world. With this toll in hand now when a designer makes a decision, they do so having internalized the persona’s goals, needs and wants. The entire team now understands and shares the feelings of users.

Focus

Instead of designing for everyone, or at least designing for everyone at once, personas help you in identifying for whom the software is being created for and for whom it is not. With this clarity in mind you will be able to proceed with designing a more consistent and high quality product. Personas help you to avoid the elastic user which is one body that morphs as the designer’s perspective changes. Instead of designing for all audiences and addressing all needs of every user personas allow you to focus on the major needs of the most important user groups.

Communication

Personas are helpful in communicating research findings to people who were not able to be a part of the interviews with users. As a deliverable it is a good way to communicating the data analyzed from the user research to the product team and the stakeholders. This will help the team to have a better understanding of user’s motives and ways of interacting with the product.

Decision making

With better and similar understanding of their users, building consensus on important issues becomes much easier. The team won’t get stuck on discussing unusable features. By seeing through the lens of the users it becomes easier in determining what is useful for the users.

Proxies

When the budget or time does not allow for access to actual users person can be used as stand-in proxies. Interface and design of the product can be tested with pairing a persona with a scenario. Instead of a real user a delegate can play-act a persona. if this delegate cannot figure out how to use a feature or gets frustrated, then the users they represent will probably have a difficult time as well.

Common vocabulary

Personas also help in bringing a common understanding about the different kinds of users the team is designing for. Lets say we are building a travel application, John is a persona who represents a frequent traveler and Manish is a persona who represents a occasional traveler. Now lets say during a team meeting or discussion someone in the team says John might not like this feature, everyone immediately understands that this is a bad feature for a frequent traveler.

Specific attributes of actual users

By creating personas you take into account the needs of specific kind of users who might be using your product.