In the design world, Personas are a hot buzzword right now. A persona in psychology is a social role or a character played by a character. The word originated from latin for a theatrical mask. Personas in design represent a set of users who exhibit similar behavioural characteristics and are used to communicate needs and summarise observed patterns and trends which can then be analysed in order to spearhead the design.

Origin of Personas

If we look into the origins of personas, we find that they have their roots in marketing. Marketers and researchers have long used customer profiling to understand target audiences. In software, personas were informally developed by Alan Cooper. Alan, during his free time, put himself in the shoes of the end user to figure out how they’d use the software he built. Personas evolved during the mid-90s, when, designers built products that provided great experiences

Why do we use Personas

Personas were traditionally used in marketing to understand innate behavioural aspects of target audiences. This helps to present and market the product better and entice the users to buy products. In design, personas are used due to their informative nature. Don’t mistake a persona to be a person. It is, in fact, a combination of characteristics, behaviours and patterns. Often, designers and clients get carried away with myriad design inspirations to experiment with features and design patterns. However, this ends up making products ineffective and does not create a delightful experience. Personas creates empathy towards the user and keep the focus on the user and their needs and problems.

How to create Personas?

Persona creation is never a standardised process. Just like requirements and challenges of every project is unique, objectives and goals of the personas created are also driven by the following:

Who your users are: The type of research conducted and the observations recorded.

What the users are trying to achieve and which of their problems are you solving

Once the above data is obtained, research is then analysed for any emerging patterns. Once a trend is seen, patterns are collated and categorised either by physical sticky notes or digitally. In addition to research, general user behaviours and patterns are observed. User stories, scenarios and even incidents involving the users are explored to understand how the user reacts under various situations. Personalities are given so that the personas are easily identifiable.

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In one of my projects, we were designing a product for a media company that wanted to redesign their news website to cater from just a regional audience to a national audience. So here is how I went about creating the personas.

  • Understand Target Users—Our current user base was regional. Over 50% of users interviewed were small town readers and had the habit of reading news in Malayalam, Tamil, Telugu and Kannada. The rest of our user base was more cosmopolitan and their readership was mostly English.
  • Observe Patterns—Our user base was more interested in local politics and entertainment. They had a strong affinity towards their native language compared to the other reader group. They wanted to understand more and read more in native languages and hence wanted translations.
  • Understand Habits—Most users liked the feel of real paper and more often than not, reading a physical newspaper was a habit that formed from childhood when they were encouraged by their parents or grandparents. This was a ritual for most people who wanted to retain it and were not highly encouraged to move to digital.
  • Technical Skill—When designing for digital, understand devices, platforms and technical knowledge of your users to avoid intimidating your users.
  • Take into account Must Have and Must Never—Each user will have certain must haves that must be implemented and certain negative points that must be avoided, In our case, ‘must haves’ included trending news, personalisation, ability to archive and ‘must avoid’ included intrusive ads and clutter.
  • Understand what problems the users face—Including current problem points in your persona helps you to keep track and come to an optimum solution. Many of our users had problems finding local news easily
  • Create a list of UX goals- What would create a great experience for this category of users? How would you define their experience? What excites the users? These goals help us focus on the most important needs so that we can create a great experience

Personas when used right, are a brilliant tool to help us design lean and create a great experience. This invariably translates to returning customers and customer delight.

You can read more about 12 things to keep in mind while providing great UX here.