Table of contents

What are personas?
How do you gather personas?
How to select interviewees for your persona design
Why it makes sense to do a site visit
Using personas in business
How to make a persona
What is the next level with personas?
Infographic: user personas for a personalized user experience

How does the term “user” make you feel? While building more users may make your spreadsheets full and make your bosses pleased with your performance, many designers rankle at the term. What is a user and what do they do? How can we take this term that is by definition anonymous and passive and make it active and specific to your business? Perhaps the best way to make a user experience into something active and clearly part of a larger company mission is to create personas.

Focusing on user-centered design has been the trend for years, but what does this mean for your users? By targeting personal behaviors, product designers can give customers and clients the feeling of being catered to and the connection they crave. Today companies strive to make their user experience not only intuitive but instinctive. Personas drive this innovation, giving a scaffold of true personality to every business decision regarding design, project management, and even deployment and sales strategies.

What are personas?

How will a new idea interface with consumers? In the testing phases of design, personas are created as sample users. They are employed as test cases and their features are embodied in order to create an example of how to assess the efficacy of a tool or product. Crafting personas goes beyond demographics to look at examples of individuals with as much specificity as possible. This allows the designers to gauge how something will effectively progress through end-to-end processes. Using customer personas gives the product team a blueprint to look deeper into what might be working and where they might need to retool as the process continues without having to rely on later beta testing or focus groups.

How do you gather personas?

Personas are meant to be conglomerations of your target customers. But just guessing or assuming you know the habits of your consumers will not glean positive results. Creating useful personas is entirely about aggregating as much data as possible. Collection includes not only information gleaned from your customer’s habits, but also trying to gauge their future habits, as well as identifying tendencies that customers may not even know they have.

This can best be accomplished through a combination of demographic analytics, personal interviews, and site visits.

How to select interviewees for your persona design

When testing their UX design, often designers look to interview users in order to better craft personas. They look to people who represent a majority of their users as far as demographic data, working to assess profiles of whom they believe will be most useful in interviews. Interviewees are then chosen to flesh out the fabricated personalities.

While you might initially expect that it is best to interview superusers to get to the essence of your product, it’s important to see how you can satisfy case users that attempt both casual and invested contact. Remember: interviews must be more than conversation. Within an interview is a desire to understand something specific about the person in relation to a new product or process. It requires a delicate balance of empathy and objectivity.

The 80/20 rule is certainly in effect here. If you don’t know the 80/20 rule it states that 80% of a site’s functionality is only accessed by 20% of its users. This means it’s imperative to think of a variety of users and construct applications that appeal to both experts and laymen. Consider an investment site that has to accommodate professional day traders and casual market investors equally and you’ll see how important it is to think about different levels of personal investment.

Setting up a few user interviews can then help inform your personas, but do not think you need to spend a huge volume of time interviewing hundreds of subjects. Targeted interviews of about a dozen people should be sufficient enough to reveal distinctive trends. Joel McClure, Senior Product Experience Manager at Hook & Loop (the experience design arm of Infor) notes that “within five to ten interviews, you can identify a trend that will be fairly consistent. Then we apply different types of user testing and research to paint a more holistic picture.”

Why it makes sense to do a site visit

However, interviewing should not be the be-all and end-all of persona creation either. If possible, site visits to where your products are being used can be extremely useful. When detecting pain points you may find aspects of a proposed design that even superusers may not have identified. When visiting a Dutch safety equipment company, for example, McClure saw that the “user was working in a firehouse on this little laptop and his makeshift desk was the front passenger seat of a van. Right away I noticed that he was about twice the normal distance from the screen. Seeing the work environment, greasy fingers and all, goes into how you think about designing the interface.”

Then, in the end, you want to synthesize your persona information gathering and distill your demographic and outside information into just a few distinct personas that will personify the end users.

Using personas in business

When personas are well-crafted to represent specific user cases, they can be incredibly valuable. Referring back to them can allow a business to innovate in a direction that allows a design to thrive.

Reference for user-based design: Similar to a mission statement, the ability to look back to personas to drive actions is invaluable. Looking to test a particular initiative? First, see how it connects with the crafted personas before trying to implement it. You can even target specific personas to see how something lands with a part of your client base.

Expand your base: Once you have calibrated your personas you can use them to identify audiences that are similar to yours. These might give you an ability to make an associative leap into new markets which can be exploited for greater expansion.

Specificity: By drilling down into the habits associated with individuals similar to your personas you can identify habits and trends of your users that will make your personas even more specific and useful.

Useful for project and design management: Once you have established personas you can look at how a project is tracking and continually come back to the baseline of personas to make sure a product is on track. In addition, it’s possible to consider further design fully based on personas.

Great for deployment and product positioning: When considering how to position a product for release, it’s important to revisit a persona to assess how best to stimulate sales with the demographics that each persona represents. They can inform where you place ads and how you target certain media markets.

How to make a persona

Crafting a lifelike persona is crucial for making your characters realistic and feel as though they actually can affect your product modeling. The more they feel like individuals, the more useful they will be. CleverTap put together a comprehensive article that discusses how to create a persona and what you want to include in each profile. Some basic features they mention that you will want to use to imbue your persona with practical life include:

A real name: To get the most out of a created persona, it’s best to provide them with a name that seems to match your demographic as much as possible. Calling them by a generic name like John Smith will abstractly affect the way your designers think about them. Naming them gives them the first step toward a life that feels as though it can foster investment.

An image: Creating a face and body is another way to individualize your personas. You should try to avoid using a celebrity or fictional character in your persona building as this may lead to unconscious biases surrounding the persona’s attributes based on the real (or fake) people it represents.

An ideology: Outside of the specifics of a demographic, like where they shop, how old they are, it’s important to create the essence of a persona. Giving a persona a personal way of life and way they see the world will further demonstrate a realism in the persona. Write up a brief philosophy of life for each persona based on their likely narrative.

A backstory: While you may know their buying history, any persona must have a detailed biography. Where did they go to school? What are the dynamics of their family like? Where do they work? What are their favorite movies or bands? All these details will give you a better assessment of a specific persona. Perhaps give a persona details like a bank account and a salary — even a budget, and keep up with their finances to assess where they are financially and at what time.

Quirks: Giving your personas habits and unique qualities makes them truly come to life. How risk-averse is this persona or how reckless? Do they love scrolling Instagram or are they a life-long Facebook user? All these traits will give you an indication of how you might alter your design with particular people in mind.

Goals and aspirations: It’s important to assess the wants and the needs of your personas. While wants are excellent to analyze, identifying needs and how to alleviate pain points is the best way to gain customers through working with personas. Identifying your persona’s aspirations are also useful. For example, are they interested in college? Are they saving up? These kinds of traits may change their purchasing behavior. How can you align what they truly want with what you are providing?

What are they following?: Endowing your personas with patterns of consumer behavior is the name of the game here. Give them modern and clear reference points considering their other traits. What music might a persona want to hear if they are, for example, a 35-year-old plumber?

Pain points: It’s crucial to identify the frustrations and issues that personas have surrounding the product you are crafting. If you understand where they have problems, you will more easily target solutions.

Where they shop: Again this is a great way to assess how to win customers through association with favorite brands or products. Is your customer a coffee drinker? How does that affect when you want to target them with messaging?

What is the next level with personas?

Drilling down further in the creation of personas will make them more useful and give your assessments more meaning. As before, the more complex and advanced your personas are, the better they will be for directing your products. After your personas are built, you can then use the data you’ve collected to go further into how to apply your product in the marketplace.

  1. Follow their trajectory: Create a map that follows your persona through a typical purchase order, then try it on something more complex. Gauge honest reactions and then try different journeys. Be pointed regarding obstacles and frustration points that might need to be addressed.
  2. Pinterest about it: Associative images, videos, and brands can lend deeper experience use to your persona. Give a persona a pattern of behavior that includes what they might be drawn to in imagery or on the internet. How can we make their journey more visual and easier to understand?
  3. Assess crossover and differences with metrics: Use a scaling system to assess certain traits. This will help distinguish different personas, where they are similar, and where they contrast. Think of situations where personas may agree on an issue and where they might disagree. Places of contention can show how best to target a product to one group or another.
  4. Try to avoid stereotyping: Because of implicit bias, it might be difficult to avoid stereotyping. Do what you can to be as realistic as possible without resorting to pigeonholing a persona.
  5. Don’t go overboard with detail: While this seems like a great deal to do, don’t let the process intimidate you. You don’t want your persona’s attribute list to be too long. Keep the assessment clear and concise so it is easier to share with bosses or clients.

Crafting personas is an excellent way to do the work of assessment for any product or process. Check out the infographic below for more information on personas and their benefits for work.

Infographic: user personas for a personalized user experience