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What are user personas and how do we create them?

Sheza Naveed

A user persona is usually represented in the form of a one or two-page document. User personas have the goals and characteristics of a large group of users, and represent their needs. User personas are “archetypical users.” This document contains the background information, goals, attitudes, and behavior patterns in which a persona will operate.

Sample user persona. Source: xd.adobe

It is essential to have a deep and thorough understanding of the audience you are designing in order to offer an exceptional user experience (UX).

Personas help the designers empathize with the users and understand them.

Design thinking process.

Characteristics of a user persona

Creating user personas is tricky, as they should truly reflect the characteristics of the target users. These are effective communication tools that eventually shape design decisions. Some of the characteristics of user personas are mentioned below:

  1. Personas are made based on real data and are not fictional guesses about the population.

  2. Personas reflect user patterns and not user roles within a system.

  3. Personas are focused on the current state, i.e., how users interact with the product currently and not how users will interact with the product in the future.

  4. Personas are context-specific, i.e., based on the product’s domain and the behaviors and attitudes in that.

Creating user personas

Personas are often made in the define phase of the design thinking process. Personas are developed iteratively and used in the later phases of the design process to inform design decisions.

Design Thinking Process. Source: NN group

The process of creating user personas is described below:

  1. Collecting user information: User research is conducted to gain valuable data about the target population. Understanding the target audience’s behaviors, motivations, and mindsets are essential for creating user personas that accurately reflect the users. Data is collected via interviews or by observing the target users. If observing real users is not possible, then using customer feedback and support logs (if the product is already in the market) should be used to create personas. Such personas are called provisional personas and are a good alternative until real personas are created. It is essential to ensure that user personas are not based on fictional users and stereotypes.

  2. Identifying behavioral patterns: Research findings need to be analyzed to identify patterns in research data to group similar users together. An example is a strategy suggested by Kim Goodwin, which involves listing all the behavioral variables and mapping each interviewee to a matching set of variables. Lastly, trends are identified and then grouped to make the basis of each persona.

  3. Creating personas: All the findings and themes are now used to make personas. Each persona should show sufficient understanding and empathy to understand the users. However, too many personality traits added to one persona can be excessive information that makes it difficult to understand the persona. Three to four personas is the ideal number, as too many personas can prove to be an information clutter that does more harm than good.

  4. Linking personas to a scenario: Personas become valuable when linked to a scenario. A scenario is a description of the situation that a persona will act in. Designers put together scenarios and personas to collect user requirements and then design solutions. Scenarios are written from the perspective of the persona. A persona should generally include:

  • Persona name and photo
  • Demographics
  • Needs and goals
  • Pain points
  • Behaviors and actions
  • Personality traits (just a few)
  1. Sharing findings: Sharing personas with stakeholders and acquainting them with the personas is essential, so that everyone starts talking about them, and they become members of the team.

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Sheza Naveed
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