User personas: How to create them and why they are important

User personas: How to create them and why they are important

Businesses across every industry want answers to the same question: “What do customers want? Sadly, there's no one size fits all solution — not least because of how frequently customer tastes change. But developing user personas certainly helps to determine the answer.

What is a user persona?

Simply put, a user persona is a fictional representation of your ideal customer. Generally, based on user data designed to help you understand the needs, goals, and behaviour patterns of your customers, personas make various areas of the business easier to digest, including brand identity, tone of voice, and customer pain points. Check out this blog post by Venngage for examples of user personas. 

Why use user personas?

As a UX designer, the first step of the design process is conducting user research. By identifying exactly what it is they need from the product you're designing, you can better appeal to your target users, thereby creating something that is useful, desirable, and valuable to them.

User personas do a good job of helping designers create understanding and empathy with end-users. By putting themselves in the users' shoes, designers can gain a new perspective and recognise that customer needs and expectations vary. The more designers start to see user personas as real people, the more they will consider them during the design process and allow them to influence the products they create. 

Developing user personas also helps to prevent design pitfalls, since designers can use them as guides during usability testing sessions, and can also help designers to communicate complex research findings. A lot of designers work in multidisciplinary teams containing people with varying expertise, experience, and points of view. User personas ensure everyone is on the same page in terms of design decisions and communicates details about users in a memorable way that all team members can understand and relate to.  

How to create user personas?

Personas and user stories can be created in a number of ways and will depend on factors like the type of project, the budget, and the type of data designers are able to collect, but we've listed the main steps below.

1) Conduct your research

As tempting as it may be to skip the collecting data stage and generate user personas of stereotypical users (that don't share any of the same traits as real users) it's important to remember that your personas are only as strong as the data supporting them. Fictional stories of imaginary people based on little or no research bring no value for the design process, so always use real data. The most accurate personas are usually created from in-depth user interviews and observation data, so if you have the time and resources, go with these methods. If you need to collect data quickly, you can use customer surveys, which allow you to ask the exact questions you need answers to.

2) Identify patterns in groups

Step number two is to analyse your findings. Start by listing all of the behavioural variables (i.e. the ways in which users' behaviour differs) and look for patterns that allow you to group similar people together into different user types. These grouping trends will then form the basis of each persona. If you have a particularly diverse customer base and you find your data expands into too many different segments, simply make more personas. Creating multiple personas also allows you to tailor different campaigns to different segments. Have too many personas, however, and you'll find your data will blur together, so try to minimise the number if possible.

3) Add the detail

Now it's time for the fun bit — humanising the hard data. The bio section of your persona is the part that ties all of the human aspects together to create a description that depicts a real user. When creating a user personas template, aim to include the following information: 

  • Persona name 
  • Demographics (gender, age, location, marital status, family. etc)
  • Goals and needs
  • Frustrations or ‘pain points'
  • Behaviours
  • Elements of personality (using a fictional quote can help with this part)

You should avoid using real names or details of research participants as this can bias the objectivity of your user personas.

4) Take advantage of persona tools

Personas can, of course, be customised in any way you would like, but there are various pre-existing tools that can speed up the process. For those learning the ropes, Xtensio is a good option (but requires paid plans for ongoing use). You can also use the Persona Creation and Usage Toolkit, which contains a comprehensive list of all the factors that can be considered for the persona description.

Get a hands-on introduction to user-focused design with our popular UX Design course.

by Emma Gibbins | 27 Sep 23

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