Personas are fictional, detailed archetypical characters that represent the users of your product or service. The notion of personas has evolved from being prevalent in the IT system development to it now being used in many other contexts like products development, marketing, planning of communication strategies, and experience design.
“The special aspect of a persona description is that you do not look at the entire person, but use the area of focus or domain you are working within as a lens to highlight the relevant attitudes and the specific context associated with the area of work.” – Lene Nielsen
Creating user personas — who eventually can become your potential buyers hence also referred to as buyers personas — help your brand understand their needs, expectations, experiences, motivations, code of conduct and goals. Personas have the capability of making your design task at hand much more fluent by guiding you through the important stages. It will help you ensure a good user experience for your target user group.
A brief historical background into personas
Alan Cooper in the early ’80s informally developed the concept of personas. He did this with the intention of understanding the mindset of the people who would eventually use the software he was designing. Cooper interviewed an intended group of people based on the project he was working on. He got to know them very well. Eventually, he staged himself as one of them in the brainstorming process and evaluating ideas from their perspective. This way he put the users in the forefront of his software design process, thus creating a user-centered design.
Later, Cooper moved from creating software to consulting. There, he realised that in order to do things right he needed to educate his clients. Thus he formulated the idea of personas into concrete deliverables that help to communicate the user centred knowledge to those who have not conducted the research themselves.
Personas and Experience Design
It is a good practice to combine research findings and personify specific details, characteristics and patterns that fit your business essentials into personas. Personas are built based on actual research data collected from multiple real-life individuals by studying their behaviours. They add insight into what would otherwise be just mere evidence and facts collected from intensive user and market researches.
Personas help you identify your users – both the quintessential users and the unconventional users and others in-between. Creating persona profiles will help you visualise and understand the trends of your research, therefore, you can have a clear idea of your people you are designing your product or service for. They are meaningful representations which help you ask the right questions and eventually find the correct answers to them. You can also use personas to evaluate your design development.
Personas are a way to empathise with your users and stands important in the experience design discipline. Personas help designers to focus their attention on achievable and concrete models of characters. It is an important part of the whole design thinking process and acts as guides for designers in the defining phase. Here they put together all their research data and use personas as one of the methods to move on to the further phases.
“Since its humble origin, Alan Cooper’s design methodology has evolved into a subset of user-centered design, which he has branded goal-directed design. The goal-directed design combines new and old methodologies from ethnography, market research and strategic planning, among other fields, in a way to simultaneously address business needs, technological requirements (and limitations) and user goals. Personas are a core component of goal-directed design.” Shlomo Goltz
Why do we need personas?
Analysing your users
The better the designers are aware of their user needs, the more the users will be drawn potentially towards using the products.
Building personas will help designers gain a perspective that is in line with that of the user’s. Thus a design is made considering the persona’s needs, goals and wants.
Power in storytelling
The innate ability of humans to create, share and hear stories makes personas a powerful tool for adding a human touch to the whole design process. This helps in building a long-term memory of a personified character in the minds of a designer while he is creating the product. He can predict the fictional character’s behaviour by understanding his mental state which is narrated in the persona’s story. Humans often relate with the emotions, the thoughts, the beliefs and internal mindset of fictional characters while reading or watching a story. It helps a designer in a very similar fashion.
Avoiding design conflict
Crafting personas can help designers streamline their thoughts. This prevents any conflicting ideas and opinions that might otherwise occur. Designers often work with multidisciplinary people. Personas help bring every member on the same page with the same understanding of their users. Thus it helps in building consensus on several major design points.
Personas help designers to come up with designs that are useful, avoiding redundant functionalities or features. It helps to narrow the gap between understanding the user needs and delivering the end product tailored to their needs thus avoiding misinterpretations.
Distinguishing your users
After the initial research personas help you categorise your users. There can be projects where your target group is much more varied. In that case, a list of different personas will assist you to prioritise your users.
Personas as a defence
If the design choice is ever questioned, personas can serve as a logical explanation and reasoning behind the decision. This is because personas are nothing less than real data and user research reproduced in models. Thus the product usability test will be easier to handle.
Benefits at different levels
Personas help stakeholders evaluate their target users. They help architects to come up with a detailed architectural plan and other interface behaviours. Personas are an excellent tool for designers as well in the early stages of design. For system designers and developers, personas help them approach based on user requirements. For copywriters, personas are useful to ensure the overall product message is written and directed to the relevant audience.
Secrets of a great persona
Doing the right research
To identify your target user group, you can apply different research methods. Research is possible through user interviews or focus groups, as we have touched upon in previous articles. This largely depends on your business needs and the volume of your users. Asking the right questions is very important during your research and to further develop your personas. Open-ended questions to steer conversations based on user reactions help to remain unbiased. Asking about specific stories and something that cannot be observed in the current scenario helps to understand their habits and motivations.
The aim is to create personas where you have a brief overview of the user’s background, both professional and personal. Understanding their goals in life and their attitudes and motivations. Acquiring knowledge of their daily life and their preferred environment and also their pain points. The questions, their directions and depth will depend on the business requirements.
Heading towards the right direction…
After gaining an understanding of your users, you have to segregate your different types of users. Then build a hypothesis to understand the different inequalities between your potential users. This requires an in-depth analysis of the data and making a judgment of the patterns. This will help you in describing different types of personas meaningfully by capturing all common, distinct or domain traits.
The final step will be to produce a visual document of your persona. The finally created personas are shared among others in the organisation who can engage with them. Every persona should have a picture, name, required demographic data, occupation, goals as basic requirements to understand your persona. Again you can always build upon it depending on the product you are offering.
Personas have the capability of bringing a snapshot of your users to the stakeholders’ table. In this sense, they help to keep the user in mind at all times, towards the creation of the human-centred design. Bringing fictional characters to life through designs is a sign of empowering your users and giving them their deserved importance.
Also published on Medium.