Himanshu Khanna

@sparklinguy

What is a User Persona and how is it relevant to UX?

In this post, we will try to understand the concept of a User Persona, also at times referred to as a Buyer Persona, its relevance to your product’s UX and how to effectively take advantage of User Personas in the UX process.

As a bonus, I will also share a User Persona Template, that we typically use for most of our agency projects.

What is a User Persona?

User Persona is a hypothetical archetype of an actual user profile according to their expectations, needs, goals, and observed behaviour patterns.

On a personal note, a user persona uncomplicates the expectation(s), hints at a few paths to resolution and eventually, helps me to reach a potentially better user experience.

As a standard product design UX process, I question the following…
1. What are we designing for?
2. Who are we designing for?

User Persona answers and documents the latter in a great detail.

Though they represent fictional characters, their understanding and representation is often (and should be) based on key user insights.

If you don’t talk to your customers, how will you know how to talk to your customers? ~Will Evans

Alan Cooper is often credited as the father of User Persona, one of the most important user experience design strategies crafted in the mid 80s. Cooper has written an interesting account of the origin of Personas, specifically while working on “Plan*It”, a project management program.

I was writing a critical-path project management program that I called “Plan*It.” Early in the project, I interviewed about seven or eight colleagues and acquaintances who were likely candidates to use a project management program. In particular, I spoke at length with a woman named Kathy who worked at Carlick Advertising… Kathy was the basis for my first, primitive, persona.

Read more on the Origin of Personas.

Why is a User Persona relevant?

Short Answer: You are NOT the user

Perhaps the oldest breach in design is to design the product that you would like to use yourself.

Long Answer: Continue reading…

The two False-Consensus Effect(s) common to user experience design, focus either on self, or a leading giant, with a proven track record, as the ultimate set of beliefs to work with.

Examples of Apple & Google top the list!

Most believe if Apple and Google have taken a UX route, it’s the best UX way for every product possible.

All products have unique personalities, offerings and goals — users being unique as well. It’s imperative that we study these users and map their usual days, lifestyles, behaviour patterns and more, to be able to create something meant for their usage. Not ours!

We tend to be distracted by the voices in our own heads telling us what the design should look like. ~Michael Bierut

User Persona is a great way to streamline these findings & discoveries about your target user segments. It’s like a checklist of what works and doesn’t work with the users. A key insight to note from User Personas is to establish a user’s (or segment’s) current subject matter understanding.

Let me ask you something!

If you were commissioned a UX project with one important set of users as social media influencers and the founders were absolutely sure that their key targets are all the star social media influencers only, what are the questions you’ll ask the users?

Additionally, as you finish the research (on that later) and craft User Personas, you observe some glaring facts!
1. Almost no one understands the term ‘influencers’.
The users are mostly ‘bloggers’ or in some cases, ‘star tweeters’ or ‘YouTube Celebs’, in their own words.
2. Star influencers see no need to be on this platform. There is no pain point to be solved for them.

What would you share with your client and offer as a suggestion?

Tricky?
Well, this was an actual project commissioned to us, back in 2014 and we were in a similar spot back then.

Interestingly, we discovered two user personas that immediately jumped with amazingly insightful elements and obvious (post-research) pain points.
1. Beauty Bloggers — they disliked the part that came with seeking payments. The whole process of negotiating blog payments, invoicing, following up for payments etc. was tiring, boring or ‘not a great use’ of their time.
2. Part-time college-going Tech Bloggers — they were hungry for earning fame & money. Any connection (read project) with a certain brand, will be a big thing for their portfolio.

During this process, we also noted the mobile apps that both the above mentioned persona types frequently used and hence, were consciously and sub-consciously aware of. It helped immensely in drafting the basis of the platform’s Visual language.

How to draft User Personas

I often joke in my Design workshops that drafting a User Persona is like voluntarily creating a social networking profile of a friend known exclusively to you, for saner purposes, of course.

Another interesting way of drafting User Personas is to write a fiction!

Think of yourself as a Novel author, attempting a fictional story. The story is NOT about you as the protagonist. And yet the story needs a protagonist.

  • Who is the Protagonist? What’s their background, lifestyle, personality and aspirations?
  • Who are protagonist’s supporters? Think side characters! What is their relation with the protagonist?

Research is the initial step, and perhaps as important as the exercise of drafting User Persona itself. Though it’s an acceptable practice, working only with hypothesis is a weaker premise for Personas.

Interviews & surveys are some of the ‘given’ exercises to gather enough insights/information to draft these fictional protagonists and their supporters. The best exercise though happens to be Observation! In UX research scenario, it’s also known as Shadowing.

Make sure you have enough material to draft some relevant questions for Research, also known as User Persona interaction. You may start with a basic background check.

How often does a user go to a dentist, might not really be of relevance to a chat app’s user persona. Though it can be a potential warm-up question for a health-related digital product’s research.

Quick 5-steps to create relevance for User Persona interactions

  1. Write down the key intentions of the product
  2. Draft the problem statements of the product
  3. Redefine the intentions and statements
  4. Create questions based on #3
  5. Rephrase the questions in 3–4 different ways

How to draft the interaction questions

  1. Frame more open-ended questions
    i.e. Please explain your experience the last time you hailed a cab using a mobile app
  2. Do not lead with the questions
    i.e. What is your level of frustration when the app crashes?
  3. Define multiple ways to phrase the same question to get to an insightful answer
    i.e. Why do you shop online? can also be asked as
    What are some of the items you cannot imagine buying online?
  4. Avoid speculative line of questions
    i.e. How would you feel if your favourite app crashes when you need it the most?

Bonus: Download our User Persona Template

If you liked the story above, have an opinion or wish to have a discussion, I’m just a tweet away!

More by Himanshu Khanna

Topics of interest

More Related Stories