If you want to design a product that a relevant amount of people will like and actually use, you cannot and should not create for:

  • Yourself
  • Everyone

The reason is simple: in both cases you’re ending up with a mediocre product, that lacks adequate focus and pretty possibly does not satisfy expectations. The thing is, as well as your own wishes might not perfectly match the ones of your future users, the same goes for the wishes of all people who at any point showed some kind of interest in your future product. First is too specific while the latter represents a pretty vague indicator for making any meaningful design decisions.

This is why the needs of precisely targeted users are extremely important to be defined before you start designing. In order to get the right picture, you have to conduct a proper user research!

Cold data are not what you’re looking for, to be clear. The last thing your team needs is to be presented with some abstract findings, which they will forget soon after the meeting. To prevent these situations, next obvious step should be the anthropomorphization of data. Or, in other words: a creation of user personas!

First of all, a disclaimer: user persona is not really an individual, but rather a merge of research results gathered from observing many different people, who are true representatives of a certain category. Meaning, you’re not focusing on a specific individual from a targeted group, but on the most important and relevant features that people from that group have in common.

Namely, user persona is supposed to be a spokesperson of all other targeted users. Having this kind of an adviser to help with design decisions is a great advantage, don’t you think? Now, this decent representative shouldn’t be neglected, but carefully ‘listened to’ and ‘consulted’ whenever you’re confronted with crossroads in a development, design or business processes.

What are user personas good for:

Your user representative is there to point out needs your product is supposed to satisfy, as well as wishes and expectations that users might have. Accordingly, it has to be able to illustrate answers on these questions:

  • What the users want: what goals your software is supposed to help them fulfill? What are the biggest pains they are experiencing today? Which specific features would help to cure these?

  • How will they achieve these preferred goals: in which way users will interact with your product? What are possible paths they might take?

Good user persona should be honestly reflecting the real users and not representing some idealistic states. It reveals context from which users are coming, their attitudes, needs, challenges, hopes.

How to create user persona:

One important distinction: user persona you’re creating is not marketing but design persona. Namely, this one is not there to clarify ways to increase ROI and allow direct communication, but rather to point out goals users want to achieve. That’s why methodology in creating these personas is different, even though it overlaps a bit.

  • The two approaches have in common the very beginning of the investigation: old good market segmentation. You need geographical, demographic, psychographic and behavioral info. Also, an appropriate pool of people should be interviewed / observed. This does not mean you have to talk with thousand of people but to find enough of representative ones eager to share the valuable insights.
  • The next step is defining and asking the right questions during the interviewing process. These should cover general and specific topics like personal (age, education e.g.) and professional info (industry, position, goals one have to fulfill at job, process they have to undergo, technology they use, etc.), as well as hopes and ideals users might have (motivations for work, problems, pains).
  • After it, you should take the time to go through the notes and analyze gathered data. Firstly, similar people together should be grouped. Once common group patterns are found, make sure you create model type and humanize it. Next – create scenarios of their expected behaviour while using a product.

Persona Template

Make user persona actually useful

The most important part: Once you spent time researching and inhaling the life into data, share the models you create with all designing and developing teams, as well as with all stakeholders. Additionally, make sure everyone should be aware that the model of user personas are not just some posters on the wall, but actual and very important part of the team. The one to whom you should turn to on regular basis and especially when decisions are to be made.

Why?

  • Confronted with real needs, emotions, experiences of others, humans are generally inclined to relate and empathize with them. User persona serves the craving of the human mind for ‘concrete thinking’ – tendency to better relate to the concrete examples rather than abstractions. It is much easier not to loose track on the real people made out of blood and flash if you don’t have the model of it in front of you.
  • Because user persona will help you all to create a unified idea on who are the users you’re addressing. This saves time while preventing endless and repetitive discussions on actual user needs and expected behaviours.
  • ‘Guidance’ of user persona help everyone avoids traps of designing for themselves and have their biases on a constant recheck. This is an effective way to increase consistency and quality of a design process.
  • Having in mind precise expectations of the user helps in prioritizing features which are supposed to be developed. Not using personas in your work means missing a chance to boost your creativity and, even more importantly – clarity of focus! Unified and focused user-centered approach of all team members will make it easier to recognize situations in which clients requests do not resonate with real users needs. It will also prevent stakeholders and decision makers from taking unnecessary risky actions.

How does your design process look like? Does model of user persona have any kind of role in it?