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illustration showing various user personas interscting with technology devices

User Personas – Why Are They Important and A Practical Guide To Building Them

Although first popularised in marketing and advertising during the ’90s, user personas are an integral part of a user-centred design process. This article will guide you through what user personas are, why they are essential, how to create and effectively apply them to design products people love.

User Personas are descriptive fictional profiles of target users built based on data and insights from user research. When done right, personas are a powerful tool that can help clarify a design project’s goal, build empathy, create a shared understanding and help focus product teams on specific users’ goals. The depth of information depicted in personas informs and inspires design teams to build better solutions, strategies and digital products that deliver an excellent user experience.

user personas cover

The problem with user personas is that leadership teams within companies treat them as an unnecessary exercise, placing time and resource constraints on the research and creative process behind them. As a result of this, stakeholders take shortcuts and create inaccurate user personas based on bias, ultimately driving ill-informed product-related decisions that may not impact businesses immediately, but are detrimental and costly in the long term.

What are the Benefits of User Personas? 

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When done right, personas are hugely beneficial for various departments and teams within an organisation. They can;

Help your design team make better decisions by providing them with valuable research-backed insights for direction.

Help your team understand and empathise with users’ goals, motivations, and needs, enabling them to make better product and design-related decisions.

Create a shared understanding by acting as a reference point for all stakeholders in your team, helping them stay focused and complete tasks more efficiently.

Communicate research findings clearly and concisely to all individuals in your team—especially those who haven’t had any direct involvement in the research and creation of personas. 

Add value to other research activities such as user interviews, empathy mapping, user flows and journeys.

When Should You Create User Personas?

digram showing each step of the design thinking process

Personas are powerful tools that help guide product teams to make more accurate decisions and ensure that the design process remains user-centred. Although they’re fictional profiles, to ensure the information they convey about users thoughts, feelings, and emotions is accurate, they must be created as early as possible, in conjunction with and using insights collected from various user research methods and techniques. Typically this would be in the define phase of the design thinking process.

Best Practices for User Persona Creation

team brainstorming

Build Based on Research, Not Guesswork – Personas play an integral role in guiding the decision making process for design teams, so they must be accurate and representative of the people you’re building for. To ensure they are, you must create them based on insights collected throughs user research, not personal assumptions, opinions and bias.

Keep Them Relevant -The goal of a user persona is to help focus your design team. However, people blindly follow templates when creating them, adding every detail about users, which ultimately adds confusion and clutter. Don’t make this mistake; make sure your personas are concise and clear, containing only important information on users in your product context.

Make Them a Team Effort – Effective Persona creation is an art developed over time and should be a collaborative effort between designers, researchers and other key stakeholders. By bringing these groups together in an iterative environment, you get various perspectives to build personas that everyone in the team has a shared understanding of and is happy with. 

Regularly Review & Update Them  -As your product evolves, so will your users and their respective usage patterns. So you must review and update your personas, to ensure they are representative of users motivations, goals, behaviours and needs at that particular time. Helping design teams make more accurate design and product development related decisions. 

Don’t Overdo It – Personas can have a broad or narrow scope; however, the best practice is to keep between 3-6 personas that accurately represent your users’ largest groups. Remember, the goal is to make them memorable to all key stakeholders in your team, not to confuse them.

Persona Creation – A Step by Step Guide

1. Collect Information Through Research

A good persona creation process begins with some in-depth research to gather information on a target users’ behaviour, motivations, goals and needs. These insights form the foundation for creating a user persona that accurately reflects a target user, which is essential due to the integral role personas play in guiding the design process. 

We won’t go into too much depth regarding user research in this article, but if you find out more, check out some of the useful articles we’ve chosen that should help you. 

2. Distinguish Behavioural Patterns & Grouping

Once you’ve collected enough insights from user research, its time to analyse them to identify any behavioural patterns and begin grouping those with similarities. The groups you create are the lowest level versions of your user personas. There are three simple steps you can follow to do this accurately.

  1. List all of the variables of user behaviours
  2. Map each user against the variables 
  3. Identify the trends and group together users’ that share 6-8 of these behavioural variables. 

3. Select Relevant Information and Organise

Start going through all the information you have on your users, prioritising personality traits and behaviours you think are most important and insightful in your product’s context. It’s easy to fall in the trap of trying to include everything, but PLEASE don’t do this. Only have relevant information that helps drive focus, empathy and relatability amongst stakeholders in the design process.

Download Persona Worksheet

We know this can be challenging, so we’ve created a worksheet to help you get started. This section will guide you on correctly filling in each step to make an accurate, research-backed and representative user persona.

Persona Worksheet – Part 1 – First Glance

user personas worksheet personal information
Photo

The photo is the first thing people see and the most memorable part of the user persona. Don’t use a random stock image. Your goal should be to choose one that instantly communicates essential aspects of the user’s personality that observers can feel, understand and relate to, without reading further. 

The best way to approach this is by first listing the personality traits and feelings you’d like to communicate in this box, using them to help guide you in choosing the most accurate image. UnsplashPixabay and Pexels are great for real pictures. If you want to present your persona as an avatar, check out Draftbit and Diversity Avatar. However, we’d advise using images of real people to make your personas more relatable.

Name

Your team will be continuously referring to the persona during the design process, so you must choose real names that are easy, memorable and bring the fictional character to life. DO NOT use a celebrity name or titles; these distract and confuse.

Role

The role is a short and descriptive term that acts as a identifier of a particular personas unique position within your user-base. Say you’re building a travel app, a role would be something like the “The Adventurous Traveller”, “The Frugal Explorer” or something along those lines.

Quotes

This section should include a couple of short quotes that help communicate something about the persona’s personality, motivations, and goals. The best way to approach is to choose a quote that somehow relates to your product/service.

Demographics

This section should only include relevant demographic information about your users concerning your product/service. The goal is to inform and provide a focus for your team, not to confuse or distract them with unnecessary information. 

Example – If you’re building an app to help people find car insurance, the important demographic information you’d include in this section would be; age, job title, income and location. However, if you’re building an app that allows users to create custom furniture, age and job title wouldn’t be necessary, so you’d remove them and include income and location along with any other variables. 

Persona Worksheet – Part 2 – Goals, Behaviours & Motivations

user persona worksheet motivation behaviours goals

Goals

Your team must have an in-depth understanding of what users are trying to achieve by using your product. Make sure this section includes as many user goals you can think of, be they short term, long term, general and broad.

Example – If you’re creating a one-stop travel-planning app. The users’ goals would be:

  • To find and book every part of the holiday in one place.
  • To find the best experiences at the lowest prices.
  • To save time and stress when organising their trip.

Behaviours

In this section, you should list down the behaviour, and all the different actions users are currently taking to reach the same goals they’ll use your product to achieve. If they’re using a rival product, observe how they interact with that product, paying particular attention to body language, facial expressions and reactions. By understanding how users behave with existing products, you’ll avoid mistakes and build a product/solution that provides a better user experience.

Motivational Factors, Barriers & Potential Trigger

The goal of this section is to help your design team get an in-depth understanding of the factors that motivate and inhibit users from reaching their goals, plus the underlying triggers that drive them to action. By having this knowledge, they can build products that empower users to achieve their goals, whilst delighting and providing them with an excellent user experience.

Example – Food Delivery App

  • Motivational Factors – Getting food quickly, no cooking or cleaning is required, desire to eat something specific.
  • Barriers/Inhibiting Factors – Expensive, long delivery time, not listed on the app
  • Triggers – Ran out of ingredients for cooking, little time to cook.

Persona Worksheet – Part 3 – Who Influences Users

user persona worksheet influencers

In this section, you should outline all the people in the users’ lives who will influence and impact their decisions relevant to your product.

Example – A couple is using your travel app to book their next holiday. One of them wants to go to Jamaica on the recommendation of a friend, whilst other would prefer the Bahamas. So the influencers in this situation would be the friend and the users’ partner.

Persona Worksheet – Part 4 – Environment & Context of Use

user persona envoironment

The purpose of this section is to highlight the various scenarios and environment in which your product is used. You want to answer WHERE and HOW questions.

Example – Travel Booking Platform

  • Scenario A – Browsing on their mobile to kill some time as they sit in the office meeting room waiting for other attendees to join.
  • Scenario B – Sat on the sofa at home browsing on the iPad whilst watching a film they’re not particularly interested in.
  • Scenario C – On their mobile on a crowded bus on the way back from a busy day at work.

Persona Worksheet – Part 5 – Persona Comparison

user personas worksheet personal information 1

Most organisations typically have between 3-5 personas; however, you should decide how many to create based on your individual business’s requirements. If you have more than one, comparing them to identify potential similarities and overlapping characteristics can benefit your design team.

Related Personas

In this section, list down the details of other user personas you think may be similar.

Example – Your travel booking platform has four personas; Adventurous Anna, Frugal Fred, Luxurious Leah and Organised Oliver. You’d list all four in this section as its highly likely that there will be some potential crossover in characteristics.

Persona Matrix

travel booking app persona matrix

This is another method in which you place similar personas in a grid, with overlapping characteristics on the X and Y-Axis.

4. Create a Visual Document & Share With the Team

Persona Template 1

Once you’ve filled the worksheet, its time to bring the persona to life in a visual format to share with the team. Like the one above, it should be striking and memorable, but not overpowering from a visual or informational standpoint.

A good tip would be to print out all the personas and place them in your office where its visible and attracts attention. Or go one step further and get life-size cardboard cutouts to really reinforce who you’re building for. Aside from this, you should also share the personas in workshops, team meeting and discussions.

Conclusion 

User personas play a critical role in product design, and knowing them is an essential skill. After reading this guide, you should understand the origins of a user persona, master the art of their creation, and how to put them into practice effectively.

Costis L.

As a co-founder of Pine and a curious and passionate design-thinker, I always use my current knowledge to create new things. For instance, I learnt that tomato is actually a fruit, so I risked it all and used it in a fruit salad. It worked.

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