My wife’s nephew checked it and he had this amazing, never-before-seen idea!
/ I like puppies in costumes, we should do that! /
I’ll know what I want when I see it.
Situations where designers receive similar feedback and project briefs often occur in our industry (excluding our delightful clients, of course). Personal opinions and, in this case, more importantly, diverging thoughts on problem solving, can undermine common ground in projects. Understanding target audiences and empathizing with your customers by discerning their challenges, needs, and behaviour as a brand owner and marketer has a huge impact on effective problem-solving. A well-known tool that helps the entire project team visualize the same person they are building solutions for is user personas (also known as buyer personas, although there are differences between the two). In this article, not only can you read about them, but you’ll also be able to create your own. Ergomania will assist you by providing a downloadable user persona template.
What is a user persona?
Let’s ask Chat GPT and see how it answers the question on the first try. I know, I know…lazy writing, but here is the answer:
A user persona is a fictional representation of a target user group that is created based on market research and data analysis. User personas are commonly used in user-centered design and product development to better understand the needs, goals, and behaviors of a particular user group.
A user persona typically includes a name, background information, demographic data, personality traits, goals, motivations, challenges, and behavior patterns that are typical of the target user group. It may also include information about their technology usage, preferences, and attitudes towards certain features or aspects of a product or service.
By creating user personas, designers and product developers can gain a deeper understanding of the user’s perspective, and use that insight to inform design decisions, improve user experiences, and increase engagement with their product or service.
Personas are a sort of average description of a group of people whose behavior and preferences mostly describe the target user we are creating solutions for. Great job, ChatGPT! Thankfully, there are still a few things to add.
User personas are a description of a general archetype. Archetypes are often used not only in project development but also in marketing, branding, and other areas. If you’d like to delve deeper into the topic, check out Margaret Mark’s book, The Hero and the Outlaw.
In brief, user personas are used to create a fictional person we would like to please with our product and/or service.
Since there are numerous articles on this topic, and personas are being widely used as a tool, let’s switch approaches in the next section.
When don’t you need a user persona?
You have reached product development nirvana, where everyone on the project knows exactly for whom (and for what) you’re building solutions, without any misalignment. Every member of the project team, including decision-makers, has synthesized and understands all the basic demographics, insights gained from user interviews and research, pain points, and edge cases. They have all this information weighted and prioritized in their minds. Everyone acknowledges that they do not represent the users entirely and understands all the challenges, needs, and business goals. If this is the case, I’ll save you some time—you don’t need to read this article. Perhaps just check the user persona template or the useful links provided at the end. However, if there is still a tiny bit of confusion, stick with me.
What’s the difference between user personas and buyer personas?
Usually the two terms are used interchangeably; however, there is a slight difference. Creating user personas is about behavior, needs, challenges. They are often used in the world of UX and service design. It’s about user experience.
Buyer personas on the other hand are about motivation, characteristics, and decision-making processes. The term is more often used in marketing and branding.
No one should give you funny looks if you mix up the two. It’s uncool. Just saying.
Let’s see why creating user personas can be beneficial for your brand:
- Helps you understand and visualize your target audience. A user persona provides a detailed description of your target audience, which can help you gain a better understanding of their needs, preferences, and behaviors. This information can be used to create targeted marketing campaigns, develop products and services that meet their needs, and improve the overall user experience
- Provides valuable input for your brand and marketing strategy. Identify and react to trends and commonalities in your target audience’s behavior. These insights are super valuable for decision making.
- Improves usability, by understanding how your target audience interacts with your products and services, you can make improvements that enhance usability and create a better user experience. This can lead to increased customer satisfaction, repeat business, and positive word-of-mouth referrals.
- Improves the almighty ROI by understanding your target audience. You can create more effective marketing campaigns that resonate with your customers. This can result in higher conversion rates, increased sales, and improved ROI. Yay!
The birth of a user persona
There are many approaches out there for creating a user persona. The best way is to build on real life observations; however, in many cases there is no opportunity to conduct interviews and research. Often the persona is purely based on fantasy, and there are many preferences for the depth of detail used to create these characters. I once read that Quentin Tarantino also creates his main characters’ backgrounds in great detail, meaning that they have an extensive backstory although most of it never makes it to the movie screen. With this technique you can really imagine being in someone else’s shoes; it can result in great outcomes in product development and marketing.
The (ideal) steps to create a user persona:
- Research, research, research
The best way to start is to gain as much real life information as possible. There are dozens if not hundreds of ways of conducting research out there from surveys, focus groups, interviews, shadowing, etc. When creating questionnaires and interview scripts, pay close attention to the way you form your question. An often-occurring mistake here is that questions are leading, and closed. Avoid this. Let people tell whatever is on their minds and frame open-ended and non-leading questions. (i.e. Please explain what you think about…, Why did you purchase…? – Instead of: Do you think it was bad…?, Did you believe it was a better choice…?) Interviews can be really effective and you don’t need too many. As a rule of thumb, you’ll probably get most of the information you’ll need from 4 to 8 interviews. Don’t forget that you’re researching a broader picture, so look for trends in your industry as well.
- Analyze, synthesize
Look for patterns, trends, and commonalities in your research findings. Define what commonalities should fall in the same group and what are worthy of creating other groups as well (creating other personas).
- Create your persona
It’s time to be creative and to use the knowledge you’ve gained. Every bit of information helps you to better understand your target audience . Use the downloadable user persona template and fill out as much as you can. It’s up to you to decide what’s relevant and what needs less attention. Remember, it’s not about your preferences; you don’t want to mislead yourself and a whole team. Avoid falling into this trap. Keep an eye on the business goals!
- Use that user persona!
I’ve seen it more than I should have. After the blood, sweat, and tears (naah, I’m joking) of creating a persona everyone forgets it. It’s set aside somewhere on a forgotten part of a harddrive (or nowadays the cloud) and the situation continues as at the beginning of this article. Don’t let this happen. Save the user persona! Share it. Enable the entire organization to know it/them by name, so every decision and argument can involve the persona(s).
+1. Super important part! A persona works best if it constantly evolves, just like your product (or service). The world isn’t still. Everything is in a constant shift. Monitor your market. Be on top of your game. Know your trends and implement them to change your persona, just like a real living person reacts to their surroundings.
We’ve created a simple user persona template in Google docs to help you create your own. You can get it here.
If you’d like to find out how Ergomania creates user personas, read more about this useful tool at this link.
If you’re interested in the topic, I’d recommend familiarizing yourself with the following tools from Ergomania’s toolkit:
- Stakeholder interview
- User interview
- Ethnographic research
- Mental model research
- Empathy map
- User journey
- UX flows