Personas are models of user types and are a critical part of the UX design process. Personas represent each user type with a photo and profile details as if the designers are designing for a specific person, yet personas are a synthesized representation of the needs of many, many users. They provide a cohesive look at those users’ motivations, needs, constraints, experiences, and goals. So this seemingly simple tool can pack a lot of punch.
- Personas help designers design for unique users: One of the great mantras of UX design is “you are not the user.” Personas serve as a constant reminder of that fact and help team members understand that they are not designing for themselves, but rather for users who have different needs, experiences and priorities in using the product. And, importantly, personas also help reinforce the idea that designers are not designing for some generic bucket of users, the proverbial “everyone” that many companies claim use their products and services.
- Personas make users memorable and help build empathy for the users: Because personas put a personal face on a set of design requirements they help make those needs more memorable and can contribute to building understanding. Personas help designers begin to see their designs as choices that affect real people, with real needs and desires. Personas help reinforce the idea that design decisions have a cause and effect relationship, and encourage them to ask again and again, “How will this decision affect this type of user?”
- Personas should be based on research: Personas, like all aspects of the design process, should be drawn from real-world experiences, from data collected from real users and customers. Don’t have the team guess which types of archetypal users should be represented in the personas. Conduct research and use the research to fuel the persona development. These research activities might include:
- Interview and observe customers and users to help determine their needs and motivations
- Interview team members from across the organization and specifically include teams that deal directly with customers and end users. Gain perspective from these internal folks and use those perspectives to inform the personas.
- Find patterns in the information gained from internal and external sources and use those patterns to tell the groupings that are the baseline for the personas
- Develop the personas by refining those groupings
- Persona development should be a collaborative process: One of the main reasons personas die on the vine is that they are created in a vacuum by a small group within an organization, then disseminated as if they are gospel. People from across many lines of business and up and down the food chain can and should contribute insights that inform persona development.
- Personas are a great communication tool: Once personas are developed, and in use, they are a great way to create a shared understanding of users. They can help contribute to a wide embrace of user needs and priorities across the organization. Personas help keep team members on the same page.
- Personas are not a substitute for design research that includes real users doing real things on real interfaces: In other words, you must still test, early and often. Personas can be a useful component of the UX design process, and they can help drive home the message of other-centered design both within a design team and across an organization, but they should not be a substitute for including users in real design research activities, particularly user testing. Personas are useful and are a great tool to have in the mix, but they are one of many. Don’t use them as an excuse for skipping steps that bring real users into the research and design of products and services.
Now that you understand personas a little bit better, put that knowledge into action in your company’s design process:
Personas: Why and How to Use Them
Putting Personas to Work in UX Design: What They Are and Why They’re Important
How to Create UX Personas: