Online polls & surveys. Check.
Empathy maps and journey maps. Check.
On call & In-Person interviews. Check.
You have just finished the user discovery part of the Design process and you have a huge chunk of data to proceed with the next step in the Design process. Your head is filled with responses from different users, their motivations, their problems and you have everything mapped out in your brain. So, what’s next?
Create user personas.
Meanwhile, in your head, you are weighing your options.
Is it really that important? Can’t we skip it? I know it’s important to bring users into the process, but it will eat up a lot of my time.
We have all been there. We start a project with heightened excitement. But later, either due to time crunch or sheer laziness, we end up doing it half-heartedly or we skip the process because it’s too demanding.
So what’s the solution? Should personas exist in the designer’s toolkit? Or, they should be eliminated from the design process? Why do we even need personas? If we already know about the users through research, why can’t we use that information to proceed with design decisions?
Fair questions, all of them. Let’s talk about why personas exist and why is it an important step in the design process. But first…
What is a User Persona?
A persona is a fictional, yet realistic, description of a typical or target user of the product. A persona is an archetype instead of an actual living human, but personas should be described as if they were real people. –Aurora Harley
Let’s take this definition with an example. Consider building an online recruitment platform. Let’s call one of the users Julie. You interview her personally and get to know about her wants and needs. Here’s what you jot down on the notepad-
- Julie, 30-year-old, Female
- Julie is a recruiter and has 6 years of past experience
- She wants to give candidates a good interview experience and wants to close the position asap.
Now, Julie is an intended user of your product. During the course of your research, you might find people who have similar needs and intentions to use the product. In such cases, Julie will be an archetype of all those users.
Why is it important?
The real value of a user persona is to list down the goals/motivation of the people who will be using the application. Understanding the users, their motivations, their requirements helps in building user-centric products. That’s where personas help. They help to keep in check the concerns of a user at the forefront of every design decision.
Another reason that I can think of is- one user persona represents several users and helps in the segmentation of user types. As an example, consider that after Julie, your next user is Barry. You interview him on a telephonic call and here’s what you gather from your minimal interaction-
- Barry is 24, male and a B.tech in Computer science
- He is the interviewer and a team lead of mobile group in his organization
- Barry finds difficulty in finding time for interviewing different people
- Barry is techy and wants to hire the best candidate for his team
Now imagine this list growing endlessly. Imagine interviewing a hundred people and taking down notes. Does the thought of segmenting your research results scare you? Even if you are doing the user research through online survey forms, you would agree that just the thought of analyzing data and converting it into useful information is intimidating. And you definitely don’t want to share voluminous user research documents with your team. Nobody would read them.
This is exactly where user personas act as a knight in shining armor.
Creating user personas helps you keep your whole team aligned with the design process. Personas are the go-to documents which ensure that every design decision is aligned with the intended user. They also serve as a reminder to designers that they should stick with their target audience. You can print them and keep them handy for any design discussions in future.
How to create the right kind of Personas?
The first difference between the right kind of personas and wrong ones is authentic data. A lot of designers and design teams fancy building the personas but what they miss out is user research. They think that they “just know what the user needs”. They don’t see value in conducting user research and validating their wishful thinking.
Another difference is the format of personas.
Look at the example shared in the previous section; you will find the notes utterly chaotic. The reasons for using the platform are entirely different for a recruiter and an interviewer. So a persona cannot be a one-liner description of the user.
Here’s a better description-
Julie is a 30-year old HR professional. She has a decade of experience in the industry. Although Julie feels that the traditional methods of hiring are better, she is still positive about using an online platform for hiring. She feels stressed when she can’t find good candidates for interview and when the open position takes time to fill. Julie doesn’t want to compromise on the quality of candidates, but at the same time, she wants to find a suitable candidate as soon as possible. She also wants to collect candidate feedback so that a transparent system is in place. This will help her understand what’s causing the delay.
Compare this with the previous version- which one do you feel is more empathetic?
Let’s break down this even more and understand the important things to be kept in mind while designing good personas-
- Always use real names. It may look like a very tiny detail but naming personas make all the difference. Stay away from John Doe, though. The real name evokes empathy. Julie is a fictional name, but the character is realistic. People like her exist. People with the same motivations exist.
- Writing persona is nothing like writing fiction. Your end users are real, not from Gotham or Asgard. So the personality should be backed-up by research. It should represent who are your users, what are they trying to accomplish, what thoughts drive their behavior, how they buy, and what motivates them to take any action.
- Use a real picture that goes well with the name of the person. Try avoiding the Batman pictures, unless you are building something related to superheroes domain.
- Creating an empathy map or a customer journey map is always a good idea. They are backed by ethnographic research where you talk to users in their environment. So, it’s always good to include bits of information from the user research results.
- Always create different personas for different users. Just one user persona is never enough.
Below are the personas for two different users of the recruitment platform.
I hope this gives you a better clarity of purpose for building personas. One major roadblock which I feel designers/stakeholders feel is- talking to users. They often build the entire product on unchallenged assumptions or old notions of product use.
This raises another important question- should creating personas be an iterative process? Hands down, yes!
As the product will grow, your target audience might change. So, there’s no point in keeping the old template. A wrong/incomplete persona can lead to building a wrong product. As a best practice, make persona building an iterative process (just as every other design process). Allow your user personas to change with time and the needs of the product.
Research, review and repeat.
Happy persona making!