May 31, 2015

A Quick Template for Creating User Personas

User personas are an easy and effective way to condense knowledge about your users into a practical and interactive tool, which will guide you in the development of software solutions that meet their needs.

In this blog post, I share some simple ideas about how to best go about creating user personas, as well as how you can combine these into a powerful template which will help you develop compelling user personas.

First of all, what’s a user persona?

I’ve written extensively about the benefits of using personas in software development and testing here and here.

For those of you who stumbled into the conversation at this point, let’s recap a bit and go over the main points of what user personas are and why they’re so helpful in guiding our work.

In a nutshell, a user persona is a fictional representation of a particular segment of users you’re aiming to target with your product.

It’s a virtual embodiment of the characteristics, both demographic and psychological, that define that subset of people, and hence allows you to instantly and vividly conjure up a single individual who effectively stands in for the collective.

User personas have been around since the 1990s. Nowadays, they have become a staple part of user-centred approaches and a technique that every agile team should master.

The elements of a user persona

While it may seem tricky to create a user persona from scratch, it’s much easier to handle if you break down the finished persona into its component parts first.

You can find dozens of ready-made layouts on the internet, however these are some of the most important elements that consistently show up across different template examples:

A. User Persona Name and Photo

B. Demographics

  1. Personal: Age, gender, family…
  2. Geographic: Location and housing type
  3. Professional: Occupation and income
  4. Academic: Education and training

C. Psychological

  1. Lifestyle: From family- to work-oriented, opinions, typical quotes…
  2. Activities: Individual to community-oriented, hobbies, motivation…
  3. Goals and values: Job accomplishment; saving time, money or effort…
  4. Challenges and fears: Overworked, stressed, under-appreciated…

D. Behavioural

  1. Product knowledge: From beginner to expert user
  2. Product relationship: From interested lead to loyal, paid customer
  3. Product usage: Devices used, time spent on product, size of network
  4. Product goals: Specific for each persona.

Combining everything into a single description

It’s important to note that you shouldn’t merely invent the information listed above.

For user personas to be truly representative of a certain part of the user population you need to collect the data from real-life users or prospective customers, then model your personas based on the most common responses given to each item in the list.

There are two main ways of presenting complete user personas:

  1. You can take a tabular approach, where you basically stick all the elements mentioned previously into a chart or table and create what looks like a social media profile or CV for each of your personas.
  2. Or you can take a descriptive approach, where you combine the elements into a coherent narrative about your persona that reads like a biography or a profile story on a newspaper.

I don’t see why you should restrict yourself to one choice or the other, and I recommend you make use of both approaches in order to provide your team with the most comprehensive understanding possible of your users.

In summary

The biggest benefit of user personas is that as your team becomes more familiar with individual personas, they’ll start using them as shorthand for an entire segment of your userbase and unlock new creative approaches.

If you have a user persona called Matt, then you could easily ask: Would Matt like this feature? or How could we explain to somebody like Matt the value of this new functionality?

As you can see, the usefulness of user personas extends well beyond the planning and development phase of product planning, and into the marketing stage as well. They’re an excellent bridge between the frontend and backend operations of an organisation, helping the team to keep their focus at all times on the user or customer being served.

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