It would be foolish to assume that your website is only used by one specific person. In most cases, a product or service will be used by an array of people, so you should ensure yours caters for as many as possible.
You wouldn’t expect a university’s website to only provide information for prospective students. What about current undergraduates, postgraduates, parents, international students, alumni and researchers?
The way in which people interact with products is changing, so it’s now more important than ever to provide a good user experience (UX). It’s crucial to empathise with the actual user in order to meet their needs, and persona development is the way forward to ensure designs are user-centric.
What are personas?
A persona is simply a representation of a particular type of audience for a product or service you are designing. A persona is not a real person, but it is a representative of a group of users formed by qualitative and quantitative data gathered from user interviews or analytics in the research phase.
Whilst not real people, personas are based on real users. They help you understand who will actually be using your product, and therefore can be used to make key design and functionality decisions during the UX process. Personas should be realistic and recognisable as based on actual users, not who you hope/imagine your users to be.
Where do personas fit into the UX process?
Personas are developed in the discovery phase (the start of the project, where we begin to plan) to help summarise and communicate research about the people who have been observed or researched in some way. They are typically developed before the design concept phase and after initial research has been consolidated, by pulling apart both qualitative and quantitative data, such as user interviews and surveys. However, that’s not to say that persona development should stop at the discovery phase. Personas can be created iteratively as the project progresses, either by creating new personas or editing existing ones. They’re handy to pull out at any time when you’re trying to communicate what the user experience should be like, whether that’s to stakeholders, designers, developers or anyone else involved in the project.
“Don’t treat your users like Lego — one size does not fit all!”
Benefits of using personas
1. Discovery of different user types.
Let’s say that we’re building a ticket reselling app. It’s not enough to say that “my product is for ticket sellers”. You need to be more specific than that. During persona development, you’ll discover that one person who sells tickets online will have different needs and frustrations from another. Being aware of your different user types means you can create products for specific users rather than a generic everybody.
2. Empathise with the user.
Creating personas will help you understand your users basic frustrations and needs. The process gets past the obvious users, so it’s important to collaborate with team members and stakeholders to figure out who the actual users are, rather than the ideal or target users.
3. Reinforce design decisions.
Every decision you make further down the line should be validated by the personas. Bringing out your personas early in the ideation phase can help validate or disprove any design decisions and can act as a fall back. If we don’t use personas we may spend time designing features that will never get used.
Often, it’s a good idea to define the primary persona (the most relevant or common type of user). This helps the project team prioritise features based on the needs of the persona — follow the rule “design for the primary — accommodate the secondary”.
Characteristics of a persona
So how do we create personas? Well let’s get something straight; there should be more than one persona. Creating multiple personas will give options to explore and address different users’ needs so the product can cater for the widest possible audience, without targeting it as “for everyone” at the same time. Don’t treat your users like Lego — one size does not fit all!
By synthesising the data you collected from research, you should find patterns in user’s responses, and use those to group similar people together. Set the scene by writing scenarios that tell us about the user’s frustrations, needs and goals. Adding a few fictional personal details such as name, occupation, age and photo can help shape the persona into a realistic character to make them more believable.
It’s worth mentioning that although personas aren’t real people, every aspect of a persona should arise from real data.
How do personas inform user journeys?
Since personas are based on real users, they will help you understand who will actually be using your product, therefore they can be used to make key design and functionality decisions during the UX process. It’s important to note that although two different users could end up in the same place, their journeys may be different, and will often take an alternate path. For example:
- User A is currently unemployed and comes across a job advert on LinkedIn. The advert includes a direct link to the Careers page where they can find out more information.
- User B, on the other hand, reads an article written by the company and is now interested in working for them. There is a link to the company’s website at the bottom of the article, so they can navigate to the Careers page from the Home page.
Both users ended up seeing the same advert in the end, both may want to apply. It would be foolish to prioritise one over the other, and so by thinking about the different personas we can ensure each will have an easy time getting there. We can design the site with both in mind.
Once you have created your personas, you can use them to define the overarching problems that your users are facing, which in turn, help develop your Problem Statements — [user] needs a way to [user need] because [insight].
However, personas should not be the sole driving force behind design decisions. They are a great tool to aid the project team in working out the users’ needs, but personas should be used in conjunction with the business’s needs as well.
Personas can add great value to the design process, as they enable designers and stakeholders to create a better user experience for the realistic user and not just the idealised user.
As your brand and technology partner, we’ll help you discover what’s possible.
We’ll make sure that the way we work is the right fit for your business, and we’ll ask the right questions to make sure you’re set up for success.
We can help build your brand through technology, email [email protected]