Personas – What Are They And Why Are They Important To UX Design?
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Personas – What Are They And Why Are They Important To UX Design?

If you want to build a product that will help your business be successful – whether that’s a website to sell a new product, a mobile app for your existing customers or software that will help you integrate internal workstreams – you must first know who you’re building it for. Seems obvious, right? But how do we achieve this?

Katarzyna Suwała, UX Designer at ITMAGINATION explains why having solid personas is key to the success of any UX project.

Identifying and building out profiles of personas is one of the most important steps in a User Experience (UX) design project. Personas are archetypal users of the product or service that is being designed. By identifying and understanding the characteristics and needs of these users, UX designers are able to design products that align with the behavior, motivations and interests of these users.

At ITMAGINATION, we practice user-focused design, which means putting the user at the heart of our UX and UI Design process, and designing products to meet user needs, appeal to their preferences and enable them to complete tasks quickly and easily. But to do this, we need to get to know our users. And to get to know our users better, we build personas. Here’s how.

How to build UX personas

1.      Gather data

A persona built on data will always be stronger than a persona built on perception. Perhaps the best way to build a persona using data is to interview users of an existing product or intended users of the new product. If you don’t have access to real users, it’s worth considering any data that could be available. If your UX project includes the re-design of an existing product (e.g. a website), you can mine your Google Analytics data to understand where visitors come from (e.g. which online sources and also geographically) and identify key demographic characteristics. If your UX project seeks to support sales or provide support to users of an existing product, it is important to speak to stakeholders from within your organization. Research and Development, Product Management, Sales, Marketing and Customer Service departments can all be useful sources of data and information that can help you understand the needs and characteristics of the users and intended users.

2.      Formulate a hypothesis

Once you’ve gathered your data and information, you can use it to verify any patterns in user behavior and then group users. Following the strategy built by recognized Product Design expert, Kim Goodwin, we take the following steps:

  • List out all the variables in user behavior (i.e. the differences between users)
  • Assign each user an appropriate set of variables
  • Identify trends in behavior (i.e. find groups of users that are focused on the same things) and then use those groups as the foundation on which to build out your personas.

3.      Get your hypothesis approved

At this stage, you have user groups and you understand, at a high level, the characteristics of these groups and the differences between them. This understanding serves as a hypothesis and the foundation on which to build out your personas. But before you invest additional time and energy in identifying and building out personas, it’s important to get your hypothesis reviewed and approved by your stakeholders. Are there any groups that are missing? Have all relevant user behaviors been identified and categorized appropriately? By seeking input now, you can dramatically reduce the likelihood of significant rework later and improve the alignment between your UX and your users.

4.      Identify the number of personas

It’s important to identify the right number of personas for your project. If you identify too many, the effort required to cater to them all might add excessive complexity to the design process and might be disproportionate to the value of the product. Identify too few, and you might not be paying appropriate respect and attention to different behaviors and you could end up excluding potentially valuable user groups. It’s not always feasible to build for everybody so seek input from your stakeholders to see which users require most focus and which groups could potentially be merged.

5.      Make your personas real(er)

Everybody working on the UX design of a product should have the personas in mind at every step of the process. It’s naturally much easier to keep a persona in mind if the persona has a face, a name, and if some details about them are known. Assign a picture (maybe from a stock library), give them a name, a job title, work out what their professional ambitions are, decide if they have family or not, what their interests are, and whatever else you feel is relevant.

6.      Integrate your personas into all your thinking

Your personas will serve a valuable purpose in your UX design project and will be valuable to many subsequent activities in your organization (e.g. content strategy for a website or marketing activity). It’s important to make sure that all key stakeholders understand your personas, recognize them as users of your product and are able to relate to their characteristics, needs and behaviors. In short, they need to be integrated into any thinking you or your stakeholders do about the product. Talk about your personas as if they were real people, hang up their pictures in your workplace … do whatever it takes to keep them at the forefront of your thinking as you work. After all, these are the people you’re designing for.

And don’t forget … nothing stands still in the world of UX design.

As design trends and technologies change, the same is happening in business and the lives of your personas. As you consider iterations to your product, remember to keep your personas up to date and periodically review their relevance to your product.

With the right level of ‘buy in’ and a commitment to ongoing evaluation and evolution, your personas can become a vital part of your product strategy and the unsung heroes of your project team.

The Lene Niesen perspective on personas

Lene Nielsen, a Danish expert on personas introduced an interesting approach to creating personas in the Personas chapter of the Encyclopedia of Human-Computer Interaction (2nd Edition). There, she describes four perspectives to consider when building personas:

1.      The goal-directed perspective

Here, the focus is on the user’s work goals (e.g. workflows, processes, contexts, attitudes, etc.). The advantage of this perspective is that it leads to highly focused design that clearly aligns with the business goals of users.

2.      The role-based perspective

This focuses on a user’s role within an organization and focuses on their goals and behaviors. This perspective typically makes use of qualitative and quantitative data but also looks at habits (e.g. description of typical day), hopes, fears and more.

3.      The engaging perspective

Seen as a defense against automated thinking, the engaging perspective seeks to create broad knowledge of the user and makes use of data such as social backgrounds, psychological characteristics and their emotional relationship with the focus area.

4.      The fiction-based perspective

Unlike other perspectives, the fiction-based perspective intentionally does not make use of data and instead relies on a Designer’s intuition or experience in a given field. In this way, the fiction-based perspective is used to inspire discussion and facilitate design exploration. It’s common for personas built using this perspective (also known as proto personas or ad-hoc personas) to emerge during workshops, where representatives from the ‘client’ organization try to encapsulate the organization’s beliefs and identify what type of person is using a product and why.

The perspectives you will adopt when building your personas will vary according to the data and people you can access, the nature of your product, your budget and the relationships within your business. Still, it’s useful to consider all four perspectives as you start the process of building your personas.

How important are personas to UX design?

By understanding your users, their expectations, their drivers and interests, and the contexts within which they interact with the product, you build a framework around which to design your product. These days, it seems crazy to think that anybody could invest in designing or building a product without first creating personas. And given the important of user satisfaction (e.g. sales to external customers, productivity for internal users, etc.) in most roles today, it’s natural to arrive at the conclusion that personas should be a key starting point to any UX design exercise.

The next step – putting personas in context with user journeys

Personas are vital, but they are even better when they have additional context. User journeys – descriptions of situations that lead the user to the product or task that they need to complete – can take your understanding of your users and your UX design to another level. By understanding the key moments in the user experience – and the relative importance and expected emotions felt by the user – you’re better equipped to ensure that needs are met and potential frustration is avoided.

How can ITMAGINATION help?

Whether it’s for market-facing apps intended to bring in extra revenue or internal-facing enterprise software that employees will need to use, ITMAGINATION understands the importance of strong UX design and the link between user satisfaction and business results. Find out more about ITMAGINATION’s UX & UI capabilities and the recent acquisition of Krakow-based UX & UI Design agency, Maise, by ITMAGINATION.

Want to win the hearts and minds of users? Imagine it. Done

Useful sources about Personas in UX Design:

Learn it. Know it. Done.

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