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What are user personas...?

Published on Monday, 25th March 2019, contributed by Natural Interaction Ltd

‘User personas’ – one of those terms which is thrown around in UX circles and occasionally pops up in marketing meetings. Everyone nods, pretending they know what it means. Do you?

For those not in the know a user persona is simple. It’s a set of behaviours and characteristics that represent a potential user or customer of your site or product. Put another way, a user persona is a series of generalisations about your target audience that manifests as a single person. Like a bespoke John or Jane Doe.

So, should you use them? That's difficult to answer without knowing a few key things about your process. Firstly, where is your data coming from.

Why create a user persona? 

It’s easy enough to create user personas – especially if you have a neatly segmented database. But the real question is why? How useful are they?

Well that depends on how they're used. The persona, in theory, acts as a kind of North Star. It’s there to guide your strategies and decision-making. When you are thinking about implementing a new feature you should first ask: “will this benefit any of our personas?” If the answer is “no” then you should reconsider its value to your customers (ie, represented by your personas).

Also personas are unlikely to provide any benefit if you don’t use them. Seems obvious, but yes, it's a big waste of time to create these personas if you are not convinced of their benefit. And are thus not committed to apply them to your process. As the saying goes, if you make em’ use em’.

Does my company need user personas? 

The usefulness of user personas can also come down to the complexity of a company's’ design needs and the company itself. For many smaller companies, it may be best to invest in other areas first. A user persona is a way of condensing large groups into a more manageable set of needs. But if you aren’t working with large groups yet it might be best to leave them for now. 

Also consider the data at your disposal. Both qualitative and quantitative data can and should be used to fully realise a persona. Without any evidence to inform the personas wants and needs all you’re really doing is making a best guess, or worse, just making stuff up. 

You might be thinking “I’ve got plenty of analytics data, I know who my customers are and I’ll design based around that”.  Be careful – this approach can lead to very binary thinking because you’re looking at numbers. A persona, with a name and goals attached to it is arguably better because it gives you qualitative feedback.

I’d imagine that someone working in design would prefer to think creatively, and not obsess over how their design performed yesterday according to just the numbers. Good design is good problem solving, like those found in a persona, and not a numbers gaming. A good user persona will humanise your data encouraging a user centred approach to the design which is only ever a good thing! 

So there you have it – a user persona is a representative of your target audience manifested into one ‘person’. They are useful when it comes to framing your thinking and direction but only if you use them properly!

Do you think your company would benefit from a UX review and persona creation? We can help, contact Alex, our Head of Sales and Marketing to find out more.