How to Create User Personas for Your UX Design Projects

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User Personas

Just who is using your software, app, or website? What do you know about them, their habits, and their current behavior patterns? Is your UX design appropriate for them, or are they bouncing from your mobile app because their user profile wasn’t taken into the experience design process?

This is where User Personas come in. Developing User Persona profiles is an important marketing decision and essential during any design experience.

Understanding the traits of actual users and developing a distinct persona for archetypes is a crucial part of UX design that should not be overlooked. But what exactly is a User Persona, and how do you make one?

What is a User Persona?

User Personas are an essential tool UX designers rely on to make sure their experiences reflect the experiences of actual people and are critical to understanding and resolving design issues.

Specifically, a User Persona is not unlike creating a character in Dungeons & Dragons, as funny as that may sound. Look at it this way: you create a character that represents a person with particular characteristics, skillsets, and attitudes.

However, instead of slinging spells and swinging swords, you’re thinking more about how Bill the Mechanic may handle an interface on a computer, which he rarely uses, versus his phone, which he is on constantly. You create an in-depth profile of a potential user and then put them up against your user experience to determine how their user story affects your design concepts.

Why User Personas Are Important

User Personas are key to user-centered design because they represent the different, real users interacting with your user experience. While they are not real people, they need to feel like real people. Also, they are not always meant to be an ideal customer. Your goal is to, in many tasks, stress-test your product and design process against different user types to find where you can improve.

Whomever your target user is, your design teams can benefit significantly from their user story and how it works with and against the experience they’ve put together. User Personas are an innovative and fun way to internally test your product team based on potential users – some of whom they may never have considered in the initial design.

Two UX Designers

What to Include in a User Persona

User Personas are not generally meant to be ideal users but realistic characters based on real-life people in many cases. Not everyone interested in your experience, app, or design is your perfect user. An app can have a wildly different type of user than was initially planned.

When creating a user persona, there are a few options for creating these fictional characters. You could take the easy route of user persona generators, but in many cases, you may want to develop user persona profiles from scratch based on different user archetypes.

One example of a successful product that ended up with a massively diverse range of customer personas and various patterns of behavior was Pokémon GO. In a Medium post by Pedro Almeida, he analyses the unique situation Niantic Labs found themselves in with the success of Pokémon GO, which had 20 million concurrent players at its height. For example, check out the great user personas attached to the article.

So, when it comes to embarking on the customer journey map, the essential first question is: who are they?

Steps to Create User Personas

Let’s review some development processes and understand what it takes to create solid personas for UX design testing. The persona-creation process can be enjoyable and fulfilling, so be sure to come into it with fun. However, this is part of an interaction design foundation and should be treated carefully.

1. Conducting User Research

One of the critical elements of creating User Personas is the understanding of users. Any UX designer & design advocate would tell you that user interviews are a fundamental step into knowing your audience and those who are not in your audience. When understanding a product interface and experience, user research-based simple questions and demographics are essential.

2. Collecting and Analyzing Data

Do not skip collecting data on your customers from which you can analyze and classify them. Application development seems pointless without users, so knowing what they want and what works for them is critical.

These customer insights pulled from interviews, statistics, and data collected by other means allow you to bring user personas to life later because they are drawn from experience.

3. Identifying Patterns and Creating User Groups

Understanding user base segments becomes an issue of taking the data you’ve collected and breaking the results into groups and identities that form the basis of the eventual user persona.

For example, things that you may identify for grouping include the age of users, demographic details, and survey responses. Having these categories in place allows you to develop into different archetypes and helps to make a user persona analysis template.

4. Crafting User Personas

The most enjoyable part of this process is the creation of the personas. Here you take metrics and craft characters of ideal and less-than-ideal users to test the UX experience. That means figuring out their user environment, such as whether they’re single, married, with kids, or without.

All sorts of data collected about user demographics come into play here to make complete characters possible so you can use those points of view in exploring the UX experience.

5. Validating Personas with Stakeholders

Naturally, multiple levels of an organization come into play during this development process. As UX and UI designers must account for these fictional individuals, so will stakeholders. Some personas may just not be necessary to the success of a user experience or may distract from more essential ones. Stakeholders at all levels of development will need to weigh in to ensure everyone follows the same vision.

UX Designers Working on a Wireframe

Best Practices for Creating User Personas

Regarding the best practices for creating user personas for product interface testing, there are four things UX designers and design advocates should consider as best practices.

Keep Personas Realistic and Accurate

User personas should be lean personas. Do not get locked into excess detail; keep the fictional user stories relatable. A profile must convey enough to allow designers and testers to get into the head and point-of-view of the user to gain potential customer insight—the more accessible the stories, the better. Think single moms and veterans rather than astronauts and billionaires.

Focus on User Goals and Behaviors

With the goal-directed design, you’ll emphasize answering the question, “What does this user want?” As UX elements are tested, the foremost thing to keep in mind is what the user wants out of the experience and to see how the UX helps or hinders those goals.

When using behaviors based on user personas, keep simple questions in mind, such as “Is this obvious” or “How do I get to this feature?” As a designer, you have an intrinsic knowledge of functionality that they may not. Part of understanding the user environment is that they lack information that may be obvious from your point of view.

Use Both Qualitative and Quantitative Data

Qualitative and quantitative data are essential. Demographics and complex numbers are critical to creating personas, as are customer insights from simple question-and-answer sessions. As you approach gathering data on personas, your question types should be varied and cover everything from statistical to more opinionated.

The issue of qualitative and quantitative is also essential in how user personas are used in UX testing. Complex numbers, such as time spent accessing features, are just as crucial as more opinion-based observations, such as the size and placement of UI elements for the persona being used to frame the testing. Both sets of data points are essential to developing robust product interfaces.

Update Personas Regularly

As demographics change, so too should personas. Updated personas throughout the development of a product reflect changes to user demographics and their environments.

For example, having a persona that went from single to married suddenly introduces many lifestyle changes to account for in UX design. Perhaps app usage diminishes, and their priorities of what they want from the product would change accordingly. How can they best be accommodated? Persona updates are a great tool to inject into the UX design process.

Common Mistakes to Avoid When Creating User Personas

Like any design process, marketing rules dictate that you can sometimes take a wrong turn with any strategy. When bringing personas to life, the risk of emphasizing the wrong thing or taking away the wrong lesson sometimes comes. Here are some common mistakes to avoid when creating User Personas.

  • Skipping the Research Phase: The research phase is essential to understanding demographics to build User Personas. It’s not just about plucking a “character” from your imagination – you must research to bring personas to life.
  • Overgeneralizing or Stereotyping User Groups: On that note, research is also essential not to get bogged down in an overly systematic approach. Focusing too much on data and categorization creates stereotypes, not the simulation of a person. Don’t forget the unique touches, and avoid overgeneralizing.
  • Failing to Incorporate User Feedback: Honest user feedback is critical to crafting well-considered User Personas because they reveal the thoughts of actual people that can be incorporated into existing personas, especially when survey responses line up with personal backgrounds established for the personas. When possible, thread in the thought process of actual people into developing personas.
  • Neglecting to Update Personas Over Time: No person is static. Your personas should be updated throughout product development. Circumstances change on a personal level, of course, but also a societal change. An economic downturn may profoundly affect your consumers, so it would make sense to account for things like that in your UX testing personas.

Final Thoughts on User Personas

Carving dedicated space in the UX design process for essential role-play may seem a little strange initially, but a rule of marketing is that sometimes experimentation can pay dividends. User Personas are a great example of experiment and play in the user experience testing process that can reveal insightful discoveries about potential users while leading to overall innovations.

While User Personas can be fun to craft, they do have an important job to do, so taking care in creating these fictional users is vital. Developing their backgrounds, incorporating results from simple surveys, and integrating user demographics means your User Personas have much to offer. 

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