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A typical consumer-facing digital product such as an e-commerce site, app, or interactive tool may be used by tens of thousands of different people. And of course, everyone has very high expectations that the product will meet their specific needs and desires. Unfortunately, it is impossible to design to the specific needs of each individual. It’s not ideal to design for the masses since a ‘one size fits all’ design often doesn’t work. This is where personas come in handy.

What is a persona? How are they created?

A persona is a representative profile of a person who represents a particular user group. It models, summarizes, and communicates research about that user group. We give the profile a name, a photo, and a short story depicting their needs, motivations, goals, and behaviours around a particular product or activity, and it goes far deeper than their demographic data.

Typically, we will develop multiple personas to represent the different groups of people that are anticipated to use a product. In-depth interviews and observing users in the location where the action is likely to take place (ethnographic research) are typical research activities for developing personas. We have also used online diaries and surveys to provide complementary data.

Jessica Anon

Personas are used to…

Empathize with users

Since a persona represents a user group the product team can get to know the user as a person, understand their needs, and design accordingly. In the example above, they can look at the world through Jessica’s eyes, which builds empathy. Decisions can be made based on that understanding of the persona which typically results in a much more relevant user experience.

Define and focus

Since we now understand who we’re designing for we have a clear target on their needs. A clearly defined target helps the team and the client remain on course as their perspective of the user grows through the development lifecycle. It helps to create consistency in the product.

Communicate

On larger product teams, a persona communicates a consistent representation of user needs. On the business side, executives can use personas as a means to ensure the organization is all on the same page about their customers and their needs. They also often have a legacy value after the initial release of the product.

Drives decisions

If we’re designing through the eyes of our users, we can make decisions about what features to include based on their needs. It guides the team in making and defending choices about what to design based on defined user needs, goals and motivations rather than just someone’s opinion.

 

Jessica

The Jessica example continued from above was one of three updated and two designed for a leading outdoor goods retailer who wanted to reinvent their online shopping experience without alienating their existing audience.

Jessica Persona 2

We approached our persona update by basing our core personas on motivations and lifestyles, using our research in-store, discussions with staff and exploration of the Environics clusters and other customer data supplied by the client. We used demographic data and staff expertise to further expand our descriptions of customer interests, device usage, and brand affinities, and potential barriers to purchase.

The personas were then used by our team to craft the shopping experience by prioritizing functionality and design in order to best meet the needs of all five groups. This way, the experience was designed for all of the target users without being designed for the masses.

Conclusion

In a situation where a digital product is going to be used by many different people, with many different needs, personas come in handy. They allow the product team to empathize with users, define clear targets, communicate with the team, and make evidence-based decisions. Personas enable you to avoid ‘designing for the masses’ and help to meet high expectations. This improves the user experience overall, and makes for a more successful product.

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