A Guide To User Personas

The following guest post about user personas is from Ayesha Ambreen.

Ayesha Ambreen is a creative content strategist, partner at Quora, and featured graphic designer. Best known for her creative visuals and viral content ideas, Ayesha’s work has been featured on blogs such as Entrepreneur.com, Smashing Magazine, CreativePro and more. A writer/designer by day and a reader by night, Ayesha loves to explore new realms of creativity and content through her work. Follow her on Twitter at @AyeshaAmbreen.

For user experience professionals, it’d be so much easier if every potential customer thought the exact same way. Some people are more logical, others flightier—some are whizzes with technology, and some are a little stuck in the past. Even if someone fits in your target demographic, they don’t fit into the same mold.

That leads to some tricky user experience conundrums. When you’re designing a website process, it’s easy to think about what works as the best experience for you or your testing team. To truly tap into stellar web experiences for your customers though, you have to get into their heads. You must go beyond simple demographics and design for them as people.

But, when you’re designing for thousands (or millions) of individuals, it’s hard to meet everyone’s needs. So, instead of just looking at ages, browsers, or income levels, you need to build personas that help you identify the needs of your audience condensed into humanized categories.

What Is A User Persona?

Are you familiar with the game Dungeons and Dragons? In the game, you pick a category type, like a magic-user or an elf, and then you create a character using that type, talent statistics, and traits. While the type and traits tell a lot about the character physically, they don’t do much to boil down the personality. So, most players spend time defining personal elements like the character’s hopes, goals, preferences, and family. This makes the character easier to portray because they now have relatable human tendencies, problems, and feelings.

A user persona for user experience is a similar concept. These user profiles, sometimes called model characters or composite characters, are humanized representations of data and experiences from the UX team. By utilizing marketing data collected about various customers, you can create a human-like characterization of your customer groups.

But remember…

The individual character you create will serve as a basis for your user experience decisions. After all, it’s much easier to cater to individual people than amorphous blobs of data.

Why Are User Personas Important?

User personas take the cold calculation out of user experience. It’s easy to get lost in the numbers when you’re studying report after report of failed sales funnels and page bounces. You can often see that an action is happening (or not happening), but it’s often difficult to tell why. Another struggle that a lot of UI designers find is that they can design based on what they find intuitive, but that’s not representative of the skill or thoughts of their target group.

User personas for Judy and Frank

By creating user personas, the designers can easily ask themselves if “Judy” could achieve this goal or if “Frank” would understand how this operation functions.

The concept of user personas first came into play in the mid–1980s. Alan Cooper developed the concept while writing a project management program. After this idea was found to be successful, Cooper later formalized it and wrote several books on the topic. His spark of inspiration ended up being one of the greatest and must utilized strategies in user interface design. What started as a simple idea is now used to optimize experiences online and off, all around the world.

User Persona: Types And Templates

User personas aren’t a one-size-fits-all kind of deal. In order to effectively implement the correct types of character profiles for your project, it’s important to explore the different types of user personas.

Role-Based Personas

Role based personas

First, is a role-based persona. This persona type uses both qualitative and quantitative data to define a perspective based on this persona’s role in an organization. So, if you think about the role this character plays in an organization or process, you can use that information to help with product design. In role-based personas, we consider the user’s duties, business objectives, and functions when creating their user perspective.

Goal-Based Personas

Goal based personas

A goal-based persona is a simple one. Basically, your personas’ perspective will be designed around what they want to do with the product you’re developing. Using what you have defined about the character, you can fine-tune and tailor processes to their specific interaction needs.

Engagement-Based Personas

Engagement based personas

An engagement-based persona combines the goal and role personas into one. This creates a more realistic and well-rounded picture of the character. If you examine more human elements of the persona like their feelings, background, or interests, you can create a persona that feels real. The more realistic the persona, the easier it is to cater to perceive and cater to their needs.

User Persona Templates

As you create user personas, it’s important to use a template that categorizes each character’s information in a thoughtful, easy-to-read way. If you define a template that keeps information clear, it helps you identify key information and critical differences between personas with ease.

If you’re drawing a blank on where to start, it helps to read publicly available user persona templates throughout the web. These resources show exactly how other UX professionals break down their personas into useful categories of information. So, if you’re wondering how to target a customer you’ve not engaged with yet, have little information on, or if you just need more guidance, a pre-made user persona template can help illuminate this process.

How To Create A User Persona?

Now that we’ve covered the basics of user personas, it’s time to create your own user personas. So, let’s gather some data, figure out the story behind it, and create personas that will help your UX design efforts leap to new heights.

User Research

Start the process with user research. This can take on many different forms. Surveys are a great way to engage your customers and find out about their wants, needs, and opinions. You can also use your analytics tools and keyword searches to pull relevant search terms and demographic information. Finally, for user experience issues, you can use services like Hotjar, which allow you to see heat maps and recordings of customers interacting with your website. Hotjar can also send quick surveys or ask for instant feedback from your customers.

Hotjar

If your business is more personal or specialized, it’s good to talk to your customers directly. Try giving surveys over the phone or asking clients about their experience when you speak to them.

Once you’ve gathered your research, it’s time to analyze.

Analyze Data

Take note and tag overarching themes that you find within your research. If you’re hearing a lot of comments or complaints in a similar realm, seeing a trend in the types of users that you interact with, or if you’re seeing a problem, make sure to jot it down. You want your personas to truly reflect your customers and goals.

Identify Patterns

Once you’ve analyzed your data, you have to look for patterns. In the previous step, you made notes about themes you’re seeing—is there a pattern? Is it a user that is struggling with this? Do you see what your customers are looking for? As you analyze, categories of different needs or personality types should emerge.

Create Personas

A persona needs to more than a collection of data—it needs to feel human. Create a template that defines several personifying aspects of your character, like their name, age, general personality description, motivations, pain points, and goals/preferred outcomes from using your product.

Finally, to really seal the human deal, crown each persona with a photo. Now you can put a face to the name and needs.

Ideally, you’ll create a character for each category that you defined in your analysis.

User Personas + UI Design

User personas take the cold, hard data out of design. Instead, they encourage designers to think ethically, with the best interest of real people in mind. A design that is created with a persona in mind is more likely to land with that persona’s category of real customers.

Think about it like this. If you were to design a product and you knew that it would be for 26–35-year-olds who grew up with technology, but that’s all you could define, do you think it would be effective? A design needs to not only be functional but on-brand and created to convert. This information isn’t adequate enough—there are no details!

User persona for Ava Jones

Instead, let’s say you’re designing a product for Ava. She’s a 28-year-old marketing professional. She’d describe herself as a visual learner who loves minimalism. Ava has a bit of a short attention span and gets frustrated by long processes, especially because she normally uses the internet on her phone. She hates slow load times and shady communication tactics. Her goal is to create a successful eBook.

Well, that’s much easier to design around, isn’t it?

An interface that is created using categories shaped after real-life tends to be much more tailored to their audience’s needs. With at least 4–5 distinct personas, you can create more empathetic and engaging experiences for your users by determining and solving their precise pain points.

Here’s how Alan Cooper recommends using personas:

User personas take a lot of work to develop and many people just starting out in the UX field struggle to get this skill right. If you’re serious enough about UX to consider it a part of your business, then it’s critical to find the time and funding to create these profiles. Research doesn’t have to be costly—it can be as simple as sending out a survey or picking up the phone.

In order for your personas to be successful, they must be genuine. Unfortunately, persona templates available on the internet are good for research. If you try to apply to them to your site, their needs are just as generalized (and sometimes off base) as cold, hard numbers.

User experience is focused on the user—it’s right there in the name. Without persona profiles, your user experience design and testing are only based on what you think is intuitive, not the user. Crafting well-reasoned and well-researched user personas often pay for itself with improved sales, balanced UX design and customer ratings.

So, go ahead and take that first step—research your customers. Re-evaluate what you think you know about them. As you unlock their wants, needs, and frustrations, you’re sure to find a path to an outstanding user experience upgrade.

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