Personas are a great tool for focusing the organisation on users and their goals.
Why do it?
Personas bring the user alive. They are ‘archetypal’ users – telling stories about users to give everyone in the organisation a collective understanding of who the users are and what they want.
They act as ‘stand ins’ for real users and help guide decisions about site aims, content, functionality and design; they allow teams to focus on the issues of greatest importance to users and avoid producing irrelevant content or functionality.
They also help all internal stakeholders to ‘walk in their users’ shoes’ and look at things from a different perspective to their own: it’s very difficult, for example, for a 25 year old single male web developer to understand things from the perspective of a 49 year old mother of two who’s trying to juggle work and home life!
Personas vs market segments
Personas are different to market segments. Market segmentation details the quantitative aspects of the target audience – e.g. how many users there are, how old they are, ethnicity, sex.
Personas, on the other hand, focus on the qualitative aspects of the target market – what type of people they are, what their motivations and constraints are, what they do and why, what their goals are – insight that’s going to make for a better user experience on the site.
Demographics only really matter for personas when they directly affect user behaviour. Market segmentation may result in a large number of user types, difficult to design for. But an analysis of user goals may lead to only three or four personas focusing on the key target users: each persona will address a range of goals – so by designing for a single persona all other users with similar goals will be catered for
How to make personas effective
Personas need to be distinct from each other and small in number – this makes them easier to remember and use. Usually personas are differentiated on the goals they want to achieve, although sometimes other factors such as motivations are the distinguishing factors.
The most effective personas are created through user research – where the data is based on what real users want, not made up by internal stakeholders or developers. Personas can get a bad press but this is usually because they are made up based on internal perceptions rather than properly researched –
“Imaginary-friend personas that you dream up without any basis in the real world may describe the users you hope to get but will not reflect the way people actually are. Design for somebody who doesn’t exist and you’ll have no customers”
And to make them really live in an organisation they need to be co-created with people who have a direct and indirect influence on the website – most obviously the developers and content managers but also senior managers whose attitudes and behaviours will influence whether or not the personas get used and valued.
How we do it
We talk to you
Initially we talk with people in the client organisation – members of the digital team and other relevant people in the organisation – in order to understand who the users are and the types of goals they may have (and are goals that the organisation wishes to support). Talking to frontline staff is often really useful as these are the people who encounter users’ everyday frustrations and so have real insight into what would make users lives easier! Following that we then agree with the client the types of people we want to interview or observe in order to get the data we need to produce the personas.
We talk to your users
We then undertake research with end users. This could be a one or a mix of methodologies including depth interviews, ethnographic research in the field, focus groups, diary studies and surveys. We explore why they want information relevant to our client’s product or service, what information they want, how they go about getting this information, the pain points and frustrations at getting that information, what they do with the information once they’ve got it. We can also understand their contexts, their digital habits and devices they use.
We analyse the results
Following the research we undertake a qualitative analysis by developing a matrix of user types against goals and looking for groupings and connections. From this we start to identify separate personas – groups of users who have the same goals: we believe clarity about users and goals is the most important part of a persona. We can then develop the personas by describing them with elements that will aid memorability and inform the design and content such as:
- Representative photo
- Name (we like alliterative names that link with the persona type e.g. Careers adviser Cathy)
- Conversational quote to illustrate the persona’s key goals
- Representative ‘personal’ details (e.g. gender, age, home location, marital status, children, home ownership, etc.)
- Context and experience level for using product/service
- Their motivations for using the site
- The goals they want to achieve on the site (e.g. for Careers adviser Cathy her goals are find resources to support my work, organise events and work experience, and support young
- people in their career journey).
- Their painpoints and barriers
- Digital device usage
- Other contact points with the organisation (e.g. social media, face-to-face)
We develop the personas with you
We take these embryonic personas and discuss them in a workshop with the client to refine them and get buy-in from the people who will be living with and using them. Following this we finalise the personas. But it is important that the personas are owned by the organisation and are not the “consultant’s solution”.
They can then start to live in the organisation to drive scenarios and generate user stories, user journey maps and content that the users want to deliver a truly user centred website.
Here are some examples of persona templates that we use and you can download.