Before getting your project off the ground you probably had to create a business case to receive the go ahead. Maybe you had to argue which audience will be benefiting of your new solution. Often you already have rough ideas of your end users characteristics but more often than not this is based on guess work and assumptions. In order to make these uncertainties more tangible working with personas can help. Over time personas will become your trusted aid to keep the big picture in mind.
What are personas?
Personas are personificated representatives of a user group. They include context in the form of a background story and take a look at their needs and issues. Further they are equipped with a name and a photo to make them personal.
While this approach, due to its fictional nature, is not without its flaws it helps creating a common ground. As you often don’t have the resources to conduct interviews with your target audience.
So before starting out with the first tasks, get everybody involved in a room and understand who your end users are.
One thing you should always keep in mind is: “You and your project team are not the users. You need to design for them and not for yourselves”
How to create the persona
As you probably know who your target user group is, you already have a starting point. Let’s say the scope of your project is an app for smartphone users to record and track their runs.
In your business case you defined the target audience as casual runners. While this is still a very broad segment, during a short brainstorm, you can derive different types of sub groups of users in this segment. For instance health conscious people, couch potatoes who want to get started, weekend runners who want to know more about their workouts etc.
Once you have identified these groups you can start creating one or more personas for them. Start out by giving them characteristics like name, age, job titles and a short background story. If you already have some customer information available this can help to build on insights. However don’t be afraid to create something from scratch as long as you don’t let your fantasy run wild.
In a second step ask yourself “what are their goals”, “what are their need” and ”what are your goals” for this persona. If you have multiple stakeholders in the session you’ll get a rounded view of your persona and goals. Once you’ve done this for all the personas you can start prioritizing them. This will help you understand which direction you will have to take to build your solution.
This is what an example of what a persona for the type “health conscious users” could look like.
Download the Example Persona and Template as PDF
Creating a persona in this form creates a physical representation that should be hanged on a wall in your project office. Thus creating a ever present reminder of who you are building the solution for in the end.
While there are naysayers who argue that personas are more fiction than reality, working with personas can help creating a tangible target that is based on a common understanding. Personas can always be refined with further factors like feelings and more specific criteria like device they use, disposable income etc. So start with the basics and refine them on the go.
From a personal experience, personas have helped me in heated moments where subjective points of view clash. Personas act as a sounding board and can help against feature creep. For instance a potentially long discussion can be cut down by asking: “Does Samuel really need a feature where he can create and share routes he ran with other users?” and followed up by “Isn’t this a feature for another persona which isn’t a high priority?”.
A nice side effect of personas is that you automatically create the foundation for customer journey mapping.
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