The user persona is one of the most valuable tools in your UX toolbox. These imagined people allow your entire design or development team to envision a single user story or an entire set of stories in the back of their minds as they work, creating a product that is better tailored to its users and more likely to enjoy success.
Personas are more than caricatures of your ideal user/customer base. They allow designers, content creators, and developers to step into someone else’s shoes and look at a project from a different angle. Personas inform every aspect of UX design, which means everyone should know and understand them. Here’s the lowdown on personas and you should be using them to inform design decisions and create better products.
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Persona Illustration by Big Sea
Basic Types of Personas
There are a few different kinds of persons in customer-centric business, but the two most relevant to user experience are the proto-persona and the user persona:
- A proto persona is one who your marketing department might create when you lack the resources to conduct market research on actual users. This might apply when you’re launching a new or innovative product or you’re a green-faced startup without a true customer base. You may base these personas on whatever you can glean from other sources. It’s not as useful as other types of personas, but it’s better than nothing.
- The user persona is most applicable and useful to UX designers. These personas are stories about a target user’s goals, pain points, and digital behavior. Your marketing department or data scientists may create this personal based on qualitative behavior research.
At its core, a persona tells a designer what your users do, why they do it, and their aims when using a given product. In essence, they communicate what a user experience “should” be.
Principles of Good User Personas
User personas, when functioning at their best, achieve several important aims. For example, they:
- Are realistic and don’t idolize certain user behaviors
- Lay a framework for your user experience in design
- Focus on your users in the here and now, not in the future
- Clarify certain points from your marker research
Personas also help provide information about your users, including:
- When and how they want to use a given product
- Their attitudes about technology and in general
- Their wants and needs in using a product
- Their pain points
- Any difficulties in their current situation your product can help them overcome, and;
- Any objectives they have for using your product.
Blog Post Persona Concept by Dillon Vrosh
Creating a User Persona
As you can see, a user persona can go a long way in informing your work and creative realistic, quality products for your target audience. But how do you go about creating one? There are several methods for creating user personas, but some simple suggestions include:
- Interviewing or observing voluntary users
- Creating qualitative measures of behavior – for example, identifying patterns in behavior, actions, and responses and grouping individuals who display similar traits together
- After grouping individuals based on behavior patterns, create an archetype or “stereotypical” user
- Create a user personal based on the stereotype, creating more detail and behavior, wants, and needs, and;
- Elicit feedback from other members of your team about the user persona and amend it as necessary.
User Personas in UX Design
User personas have one major advantage in UX design: they keep your team focused on an outcome, as well as how a user would perceive that outcome. They also help prevent any issues with designing with the design team in mind (for example, making a product that your users will actually use, not your design team).
A persona helps ensure that through every effort in a product’s design and development, the user’s voice plays a role. In other words, it’s the little voice in the back of your head that drives the end result. Failure to consider a user’s voice can lead to failure to design a quality product that your audience will actually lose.
Another thing a persona does well is provide context. If, for example, your team creates scenarios about how your product will be used, a persona will help inform those scenarios based on actual research, not just on how you perceive it might be used. Combining scenarios with user personas is one of those UX best practices that every designer should use when making their products.
Key Uses of Personas in Product Design and Development
A user persona serves four key functions in product design and development:
- They create alternative solutions and prioritize when your team runs into time conflicts or constrained resources. In an ideal world, we would all be able to develop products that meet every user expectation – and within budget. In reality, it’s not so simple. A user persona helps your team answer the question, “which features are most important to our users?”
- They validate or refute design team decisions. Throughout every step of the design and development process, ask yourself, “is this really what the user wants/needs?”
- They guide brainstorming sessions. The ideation phase makes it easy for workers to become sidetracked and focus on what they want. Personas work double time to serve as inspiration and to ground efforts, keeping designs focused on the user.
- They help in the development of differentiating prototypes and critique. Every member of the team should reference the persona when providing feedback or coming up with new iterations of a project.
How Do UX Personas Differ From Traditional User Personas?
The process for creating a user persona based on website or application use is very similar to creating a persona for another project or product. On the other hand, the context in which a user might interact with your product plays a critical role in your UX, particularly when it comes to mobile.
For example, it’s much more important for UX personas to come from real-time behavior analysis. Qualitative measures like interviews are not the best way to determine how users actually interact with an application, rather than how they say they do.
At the same time, if your users are going to interact with your users on a mobile application, their needs will be completely different from one they access via desktop or at the office. If you’re planning on creating a mobile and a desktop version of a product, consider making two different user personas to reflect each.
UX personas, more so than other user personas, require you to look at a target user within a snapshot in time.
Leverage User Personas for Better UX
User personas, especially when you use them in conjunction with scenarios, provide a highly effective tool for UX designers. By using personas, a project team can focus on a user’s requirements, needs, and wants, allowing your team to understand the desired outcomes for any design project. Personas based on qualitative user research are best, but proto-personas are better than none at all.
At their core, user personas provide valuable context to every member of your design and development team. By keeping their stories in the back of your mind, you’ll avoid common design snafus, prioritize effectively, and deliver a product that’s most likely to succeed – and by focusing on context of use and creating different versions for desktop and mobile, you’ll successfully develop products that fit a wider range of users.