Creating personas is a very powerful and rewarding approach to help increase the usability and client centricity of any web site or digital product. As a designer – who has created and used personas in design – but more so as a Web Project Manager, I've been a big advocate for the creation and use of personas to influence and guide the design, redesign or iterative evolution of digital platforms.
More times than not, when consulting with clients on a new project, they either don’t understand what a persona is, however in the event they do, most haven’t created or truly invested the time in creating fulsome personas to guide designers and developers into creating the best experience for your intended audience. And more interestingly enough, as projects progress and often scope creeps, personas are a continual talking point that is raised when addressing missed features, new enhancements or digital marketing. By getting up close and ‘persona’ with your website, your design and development team can focus on a manageable and memorable cast of characters and develop for a specific somebody, rather than the generic everybody.
What is a User Persona?
Simply put a user persona is a fictional representation of your ideal customer. A more specific definition originally from the Foviance/Seren guide to Segmented personas is:
“A persona is a fictional character that communicates the primary characteristics of a group of users, identified and selected as a key target through use of segmentation data, across the company in a usable and effective manner.”
User personas are generally based on a combination of your websites analytical data, user research as well as incorporates the needs, goals, and observed behavior by patterns of your own or your competitors target audience groups.
A well-defined persona contains four key elements:
Header - This portion of the persona is all that is only fictional in nature, where you assign a name, image, and quote that summarizes what matters most to the persona as it relates to the project. By adding a more ‘human’ aspect to a persona, this helps to improve memorability which the design and development team can focused on the users they are building the project for.
Demographic Profile - While the header is a more fictional, memorable in notion, demographic details are all factually based and built on user research. This is comprised of four main profiles: personal background, professional background, user environment, and psychographics.
Personal Background includes specifics such as age, gender, ethnicity, education, persona group and family status.
Professional Background includes details such as job occupation, income level, and work experience.
User Environment represents the physical, social, and technological background of the user.
Psychographics includes attitudes, interests, motivations, and pain points which adds an additional layer of realism or ‘human’ attributes to a persona with the intention to boost empathy when exploring user needs and goals.
End Goal(s) - An end goal is the driving force that inspires action, and answers the age-old question: what do users want or need to accomplish by using your website or product?
Scenario - A scenario is a narrative, a “day-in-the-life” of how the persona would interact with your website or product in to achieve his or her end goal(s). The scenario usually defines when, where, and how the narrative takes place and are written from the perspective of the persona and includes use cases that may arise in the future.
What a persona is NOT: a persona is not a user, nor is it based on your customers likes and dislikes, nor is it a hypothetical person who is dreamed up by a marketing department. Personas and users tend to get mixed up interchangeably. Personas concentrate on what a user does, what frustrates the user, and what gives the user satisfaction, not what product they don’t like, what words you use they may not like or maybe the brand product names they do like.
When to Create Personas?
“Yesterday. As early as possible” is the best advice for when to create personas for your project. As personas are based on user research and representative of those whom will use your site or product, the persona-creation process should be a part of the overall discovery and/or research phase before the design process starts. Personas can help influence the features that are required, the customers buying journey – but mainly benefits the creation of the design.
Why are Personas Beneficial?
The main benefit of using personas is they create a common goal(s) that can help identify features and focus the design and development efforts. Additionally, when it comes to making design strategy decisions, the functionalities that would most benefit one or multiple personas will help guide which features to implement and prioritize.
Personas are beneficial for:
Defining a specific user goal(s) and need(s)
Identifying opportunities and potential gaps in features or product needs
Providing focus and a common goal for design and development teams
Helping designers design with users in mind and prioritize design elements and resolve design disagreements
Providing validation based on personas to reduce frequency of expensive usability testing
Although it is recommended to complete personas at the start of your project, personas are also beneficial for websites and products that are developed and may require continual tweaks and improvements. Some choose to implement an iterative design process known as growth-driven design, which is an agile development or redesign of a website or product in intentional increments. Based on user driven data and personas, businesses make continuous, adaptations based on a business's ongoing analysis of customers wants, needs and goals – all of which formulate personas.
What you first detailed as your user persona from the birth of your site or product, may not be the same when you have added more features, launched into new markets or added in new services. Personas will fundamentally change and grow as does your business.
Like any other process or tool available to a business analyst, designer or developer, personas can hold a lot of power when done at the right time and place – the trick is to know when to initiate the creation of personas and then use it effectively. If used badly or not based on research, made up of fluff, information that is not pertinent to the issue at hand, or if based only on market research then personas will impart a false understanding of users and lead to a true non user-centered design process.
Don’t lose sight in the importance of taking time to create user personas when starting a new digital product. Save yourself time and money and add persona development to your process. Most companies have resources to do so, and there are several consultants who can assist if you don’t have the expertise on your team.