Personas are fictitious characters who, as a set, represent the breadth of tasks, behaviors, and motivations that your users perform that help your team make strong, user-centric design decisions.
Many companies have personas, but how good are they? And how well do they aid design? While more and more companies are seeing the value of using personas to design and help communicate about design ideas, few know how to do it right. Because it't not easy!
Personas should be based on real user data.
Personas should be more than just some ideas that the creators had. Personas should be created based on real user data gathered in research, not guesses about the people using your products. Take time to observe and talk to users to get a solid set of personas together. Your product will be more fool-proof -- you'll spend less time making changes later. And personas can be used for a long time for a variety of projects. Once you have a solid base, you can continue to evolve these personas as the product offering expands and/or as new user goals are discovered.
Marketing segments and not personas.
Many companies believe that their marketing segments can double as personas for designing products. Good personas should be task-based, and are not the same thing as segments or profiles used for marketing efforts. Marketing segments need to reflect characteristics about an audience that will lead to purchase behavior and acquisition. However, once users are acquired they need to use the product. And the things they need to do at this point consist of a set of tasks and behaviors that should be represented in task-based personas. For example, it may be useful for marketers of a consumer video conference app to consider demographics such as age when reaching out to teens vs. moms though different publications, but many of the tasks related to using the app (installing the it, adding contacts, placing a call, etc.) are the same.
Personas should represent a broad range of tasks, and highlight the most important things.
Many times personas are created that represent a set of user behaviors, but are not complete. The best personas are created after a someone rigorous task analysis has been done based on user interviews or contextual inquiry. If you don't represent a breadth of tasks you are designing an incomplete product. While considering the broad set, absolutely keep the most important and common tasks top of mind so your product is optimized for those things. Finally, in addition to tasks, personas become even more valuable when they include motivations, quotes, and context to help bring the personas to life and to help the users of the personas develop empathy for the end user.
Good persona checklist:
* Are your personas based on real user data?
* Did experts determine who to talk to and how to gather the right data?
* Are your personas representing a complete set of tasks, behaviors, and motivations?
* Are the top tasks crystal clear?
* Is the set of personas manageable? (2-5 personas for most products)
About the Author
Mary Piontkowski is a user experience specialist who has worked with high-profile companies such as Adaptive Path, Organic, and Macromedia. Through her strategic approach, creative expertise, and mastery of a variety methods for design and innovation, Mary has helped build robust experiences for Fortune 100 and 500 companies such as Macy's, Levi's, PayPal, Sun Microsystems, Hasbro, Sprint, Allstate, and Microsoft. "I'm a strategic design leader who thrives in ambiguity -- situations that require change and transformation. My defining work revolves around digital experiences. I believe good design and innovation come from collaboration between cross functional teams and through close attention to user insights, business goals, and some instinct. I find that strong leadership requires a mix of soft and hard skills, from emotional intelligence and adaptable communication to strong facilitation and persuasion skills. I understand that the context of a situation must be understood in order to ultimately have influence within an organization and with end users alike. I believe in adhering to standards, but am always looking for opportunities for invention. While I am strongest in a leadership role, I believe that design leaders should always stay involved with the creative process."