Personas are usually thought of as façades—the role one adopts to present to others. However, in the design world, personas are a perceived a bit differently. For designers, they are carefully crafted, researched and fictional representations of their users.
Personas have been a tool in the design process for decades. As designers, creating research-based user prototypes allows us to not only learn about our users and better understand them, but see from a perspective outside of our own.
Studies have shown that personas can greatly impact the design process in a positive way. Overall, they aid the designer in emphasizing with and analyzing users, ultimately allowing the production of designs that are higher in quality and more successful. In this article we will discuss what a persona is in relation to design, how it’s used in the design process, and how to construct and use personas in your own designs.
What is a Persona?
A persona is created by the designer by taking target demographic groups, gathering information on those groups through research and interviews, and using the data and characteristics from that group to create a representational and fictional character. As Shlomo Goltz mentions in his blog “A Closer Look At Personas: What They are and How they Work,” a persona is depicted as a specific person but is not a real individual. Instead, it is synthesized from observations of many people. Each persona represents a significant portion of people in the real world which enables the designer to focus on a manageable and memorable “cast” of characters instead of focusing on thousands of individuals. Personas help designers to create different designs for different kinds of people and to design for a specific person, rather than the generic everybody.
The Creation of Personas in Design
Developed by designer Alan Cooper in the 1980’s, personas were created as a way to emphasize and embody the mindset of people who would eventually be using his products. Data would be collected and then reflected in the persona, or the user model. Differing mentalities between people interviewed and researched suggested different demographic types, therefore required different personas or user models. Cooper used the concept of personas as a design tool to understand his users and design for their needs more effectively.
Why use Personas in the Creative Process?
- Empathy. Gain a perspective similar to the user.
- Focus. Personas help define audience– who we are creating for.
- Collaborate. Establishes a medium for shared knowledge among teams.
- Make Decisions. Helps to determine design decisions
- Measure effectiveness. Test design by pairing persona with scenario.
In design, user personas are usually presented as a one-page document as a way to summarize research findings. The understanding of users is the most important aspect of this document rather than any design aspects. For a general template, Shlomo Goltz recommends the persona poster template by Creative Companion.
Components of Goal- Directed Design that Support Personas
- End goal(s). This is an objective that a persona wants or needs to fulfill by using software. The software would aid the persona to accomplish their end goal(s) by enabling them to accomplish their tasks via certain features.
- Scenario(s). This is a narrative that describes how a persona would interact with software in a particular context to achieve their end goal(s). Scenarios are written from the persona’s perspective, at a high level, and articulate use cases that will likely happen in the future.
- Personas, end goals and scenarios relate to one another in the same way that the main character in a novel or movie goes on a journey to accomplish an objective. The classic “hero’s journey” narrative device and its accompanying constructs have been appropriated for the purpose of designing better software.
Recommended General Formula for Designers Creating User Personas
- Interview and/or observe an adequate number of people.
- Find patterns in the interviewees’ responses and actions, and use those to group similar people together.
- Create archetypical models of those groups, based on the patterns found.
- Drawing from that understanding of users and the model of that understanding, create user-centered designs.
- Share those models with other team members and stakeholders.
Developing the Right Persona
Personas are one of the most effective ways to empathize and analyze users. For successful personas and successful designs, it is important that we create experiences custom tailored to people unlike ourselves. In his blog “A Closer Look at Personas: A Guide to Developing the Right Ones Part 2,” Shlomo Goltz shares his method:
- Identify Users: Who will be using your product or design?
- Decide What to Ask: This will differ depending on your target audience, but always try to ask primarily open-ended questions, ask participants to show more than tell, and when possible, ask for specific stories, especially about anything you cannot observe. View Goltz’s interview template here.
- Get access to Users: The number of participants does not matter as much, it is kore about gaining new information from interviews and observation.
- Gain Understanding of Users: Empathize with users firsthand.
- Analyze the Data: Each unique pattern of behaviors and attitudes among participants should be represented by a unique persona.
- Synthesize a Model of Users: Decide how to describe personas. Common, average or dominant traits need to be captured in each persona.
- Produce a Document for Others and Socialize the Personas (share it with others): There is no one right way to create a persona document, but essential elements should be included. An effective persona document that communicates a model of users to others typically consists of the following:
- descriptive title,
- a day-in-the-life narrative,
- end goals (explicit and tacit)
Personas are fictional characters we create, based on research, in order to better understand user needs. There are suggested techniques but no universal method in creating personas for our users. However, the end goal should be to gain a better understanding of our users in order to create the best possible user experience, design, and/ or product for our targeted group.
This Post Has 6 Comments
Hanna Z11 Oct 2022
Hi Jean! I really liked how informative and detailed your blog post is this week, great job! Creating and using personas is actually something that I have already been familiar with because of my background in advertising and public relations. They are used for a very similar purpose, in order to target the right kind of customer for a product or service. I think what is key in developing personas that some people have a hard time wrapping their head around is that, like you pointed out, are not focusing on one individual but rather synthesizing information from the observations of many people. I think this article on Adobe also expands upon that point: https://xd.adobe.com/ideas/process/user-research/putting-personas-to-work-in-ux-design/.
Jared S12 Oct 2022
Hey Jean! Thanks for the informative article. I found the information you wrote about reinforces what we’ve learned in class this week. I am surprised that the article didn’t touch on the drawbacks of personas though. I think they can lead to leaving out some parts of an audience. This article on UXmatters addresses just that: https://www.uxmatters.com/mt/archives/2019/02/the-pitfalls-of-personas-and-advantages-of-jobs-to-be-done.php.
Emma C12 Oct 2022
Jean, your blog was very interesting! I think that reading about personas really helped me when thinking about moving forward on our class website building project. Creating a persona will help my team keep the correct potential audiences in mind while we are building. It was nice to read your blog post after what we talked about in class. I really liked how you dove into how we can create personas under the “Developing the right personas” header. Here is an article I found that offers a template you can follow https://www.hotjar.com/blog/user-personas/
Bruna N13 Oct 2022
I really enjoyed reading your blog post on personas in the design process. I thought that it was explained really well and got the point across clearly and concisely. The images really helped to convey the meaning of a persona—the demographic vs. psychographic image was helpful in showing the different characteristics included in personas. Another section of the blog post I found interesting was the Recommended General Formula for designers creating user personas. The numbered list helped to organize the main points and list each step clearly. Here’s an article that further illustrates the guide to creating personas: https://uxplanet.org/guide-to-creating-user-personas-c62586bb7f0a
Genevieve F13 Oct 2022
Hey Jean! I liked your blog post this week a lot. As we talked about in class, I thought the car metaphor was a really smart way to explain the importance of designing a website for one persona versus a group of people. I also thought it was really interesting that there is a time in history pinpointed for the creation of a persona like it isn’t just a fancy way to identify the audience. I wonder if this technique was ever used before 1980 and just not coined.
I love all of the features you included in your blog post like the graphics and the unordered list. It was really informational and easy to follow. Great job!
Tina M13 Oct 2022
Hi Jean, I really liked the way you explained personas. When I first heard the term, I thought it referred to the identity of the website itself, but your post was very informative about what persona’s actually are. I loved all the pictures you used. They helped me understand the whole concept a lot better. my favorite part is the section with the cars and how you explained that different personas are used for different perspective, not to jumble all their needs into one mess of a website. Great job on this blog post. I found a link about four different types of personas and how they can be used depending on what your looking for: https://www.forthea.com/blog/the-4-personas-to-optimize-for/