🍪 A bitesize guide to creating user personas

User personas are a commonly used approach in the field of product design and development. They provide valuable insights into the needs, behaviours, and preferences of different user groups. While there have been discussions about the effectiveness of personas and some have advocated for moving away from their usage, I firmly believe that when personas are created and applied correctly, they can be an invaluable tool, and can greatly enhance the design and development process, leading to more user-centric and successful products.

Here is a quick guide on how to create your personas, properly:

1. If you already have personas, scrutinise them

Gather all the personas that you already have within your organisation. Analyse them. Are teams using them currently? If not, then why? Are some personas very similar? Can you immediately identify any missing personas? When was the last time the personas were reviewed? Think of this step as a “stock take” and a starting point for creating your new personas. Personas are a living document, and even after you have created them, the cycle should start again.

2. Talk to your users

The number one rule for user personas is that they need to be based and validated on actual users. They cannot be assumptions or guesses, or the personas will fail. We do not design for stereotypes, we design for real people. Personas should be data driven, so talk to your customer base. This can be achieved via interviews, surveys, emails etc. It’s good to dedicate enough time to this also and to reach as many customers as you can.

Whilst talking to customers, not only is it important to ask them about their role and day-to-day tasks, but you also need to discuss what annoys them, what do they like, and what keeps them up at night. Get to know them and how they use the product. Ask them to share their screen and observe how they navigate. Make note of the other apps they are using, what team they are a member of, and maybe even how they got into their current role. The more data, the better.

3. Collect and dissect

By now you should have amassed a lot of data. It’s time to put it all in one place (a tool like Dovetail or even Notion is good). After you have collected all your bits and pieces of data, now you need to set aside some time to analysing and sorting through all the information. Read through transcripts. Spot patterns, similarities and anything that stands out. Start creating loose groupings for these consistencies, and label them. Then start combining the information and reducing the data down further. Eventually, you should end up with a succinct data set with all the key points. From here, your personas can come to life.

4. Put the pieces together

Whilst there are various user persona templates out there, the best ones should include the following:

  • Day-to-day tasks/responsibilities. Keep these to a minimum, they are mainly for context.
  • Goals and aspirations. What do they want to achieve? What motivates them? Why do they get up in the morning?
  • Pain points and frustrations. What annoys them? What blocks them? What keeps them up at night?
  • What tools do they use?
  • What kind of questions do they ask?

Here is another point where persona creation and adoption can fail. It is common to see demographic information in personas i.e. names, locations, ages etc. This is not a good idea, as this is all based on assumptions. Furthermore, it introduces bias into the persona, such a gender or ethnicity. Whilst certain elements like a name can aid empathising with a persona, it is important to keep these to a minimum and focus on real data instead of fictionalised.

It is also a good idea to not have many personas. Not only does it help with remembering them, but it aids with empathy building. Personas are not role based, they are people based. A persona can be multiple roles, as people, we often wear different hats when we work. We are not defined by a job title. A job title doesn’t tell me anything about pain points and goals. Therefore, you should not have a persona for every role you encounter when talking to users. A persona should be a grouping of common characteristics, behaviours, thoughts and feelings. Ideally, you should have 3-5 personas depending on the size of your organization and product portfolio.

5. Use the new personas

Once you have created your persona set, try them out. Create resources for them and share with your teams. Do workshops on them. Start referring to them in designs and documents. Get feedback and thoughts on them. Find any problems or gaps in information. Then, repeat the cycle again.

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