April 28, 2015

Everything You Wanted To Know About User Personas

I’ve already written about how critical user personas are for a successful project on our blog.

Here at ReQtest we use this technique regularly. Every new feature we develop is examined through the eyes of our user personas, a process which nearly always gives us new insights on how to improve our offering even further.

In this article, I’ll expand even more on the subject of user personas.

There is a tonne of useful information about there, but separating the wheat from the chaff can be tough work if you’re just getting started.

Here I present the definitive guide to understanding what user personas are and how to use them to create better products. Read on to find out everything you wanted to know about user personas…

Why User Personas: Getting into your users’ shoes

User personas are the basis for designing an excellent user experience.

And delivering excellent user experience is one of the central driving forces in customer creation, retention and more revenue.

For a very long time, businesses turned to the demographic data collected during their market research phase to get to know who their customers were. Age, gender, education… This data, or rather, the average picture that emerged, guided the decisions made by product owners.

But average data creates average products.

As the software market shifts from the one-size-fits-all model and embraces individual customisation more, it is becoming more important to accurately identify what makes your users tick.

The long and short of it

Here’s your 6-step cheat sheet to creating great user personas…
  1. Identify your real users
  2. Approach them and ask questions
    • General background questions
    • Skills, knowledge and expertise
    • Goals and motivations
    • Concerns and objections
  3. Analyse the data
  4. Cluster similarities
  5. Build a model
  6. Give them a life

Read on to delve into each aspect in more detail.

Better the customer you know

A user persona isn’t composed simply of data, but it is also a cluster of beliefs, behaviours and bonds. These factors cut across your customer base to segment it psychologically rather than materially. Thus, you begin describing your customer types using meaning-rich epithets like ‘tech savvy, physically active, early-career professional’.

Each user persona you create will exhibit unique purchasing behaviour styles, different degrees of engagement and savviness with your products, and their own wants and needs. The combination of these elements will give rise to a cast recurring characters that will interact with your product in specific ways and will require a tailored marketing, selling and customer support approach.

These user personas become fictional characters, with a life of their own almost, that start to inhabit your UX documentation and interact with your product in predictable ways.

It’s not unlike scripting a TV sitcom, but with product features instead of plot points!

Fleshing out your user personas

The best way to create user personas is to conduct one-on-one interviews with your existing customers or target audience. The process typically starts off with general conversation about the subject’s and gradually becomes more focused on his or her use of your products or services.

Although they could be costly in terms of money and time, the depth of information you can get from these interviews will give you a wealth of material with which to engineer your user personas and make them as realistic as possible.

Collecting and analysing behavioural and qualitative data from your existing customers is also a solid approach to creating user personas, although being one step removed from the real thing.

Another low-cost option would be sending out links to online surveys and questionnaires to your customers or prospects that read your newsletter or sign up to receive any kind of premium. I still suggest you do follow up with some leads in person or via Skype/Lync however.

Recruiting and dismissing user personas

Over time, you can build a cast of user personas which you can hire for any new project you’re working on at the time. Some personas will star across several projects, others will make a one-time appearance and then retire back into obscurity.

This leads us to an important fact: Not all user personas are created equal.

To wrap our heads around this it’s best to divide customers into core and fringe customers.

The difference between the two isn’t in size (as a matter of fact, you’re more likely to have a small concentration of hardcore fans passionately engaging with your brand and A LOT of fringe customers simply gravitating around your product — this is your long tail) but personality.

Core customers tend to be more homogenous in terms of personality, whereas you’ll find a greater diversity amongst the fringe customers. Having a good idea of this ‘psychological heat map’ of your customer base is gives you a crucial edge in your market.

Defining your user personas

You don’t need to look far to find out the stuff your user personas are. Like the real customers they are based on, user personas have varying levels of openness and scepticism towards new products and features, a fact captured by the innovation diffusion graph.

Some are innovators and early adopters who will snap up new offers the instant they’re available. The majority will take their time to examine the proof before taking on board new things. A select few will only be persuaded to make use of your products after months of relentless pursuit.

Your user personas should reflect this natural diversity in your customer base.

Other considerations you should take into account are the time your users spend interacting with your app, what they seek to accomplish with it and how will they personally benefit from it, as well as the device they’re most likely to use to log in.

You shouldn’t just take a snapshot of your user persona. Create a whole photo album instead!

The history of your persona is as important as its current status. What other products were they exposed to before they started using yours? What is the nature of their relationship with your brand and those of competitors?

When you’re done answering these questions, then you can take an actual snapshot and use it as a profile picture for your user persona. Present the information you collected about them in their very own fictional social media account, complete with quotes, list of main influencers, their likes and dislikes.

Using your user personas

Once your cast of characters is complete it’s time to raise the curtains and get the action going. User personas are critical throughout the creative process and all team members of your organisation can participate in generating useful insights to implement in your product features.

Here are some ways user personas can help you:

  • Build a relationship with customers: Learning to empathise with their pain points and developing ways to resolve them with your product.

  • Develop focus: Concentrate on your customer and never take off your eyes from the real prize: their loyalty to your product in the long-term. That’s what’ll keep you in business.

  • Communicate better with the team: Over time user personas become a sort of shorthand for a customer type that instantly conjures up a lot of associations that help all team members get on the same page and collaborate better together.

  • Justify decisions using your customers’ voice: With user personas you begin taking the role an advocate for customers and make it easier to push aside the challenges that biases and ego tend to pose among professionals, especially the most seasoned ones!

  • Measure effectiveness: By making customers’ satisfaction the measure by which a product feature’s success is measured you’ll have a better grasp on which features should be prioritised and made ready for launch before others.

User personas are so effective because they leverage natural abilities in human beings, namely their preference to deal in narratives, using concrete subjects that carry out defined actions for obvious purposes.

This makes it easier to relate on an emotional level with customers and benefit from a more holistic approach to decision-making.


It’s very easy to become so focused on your own professional goals and the success of your product that you simply leave your customer out of the equation.

The main benefit of user personas is that they allow you to virtually get out of your mind and see the world through your customers’ eyes. This not only helps keep any biases and egos in check, but also ensures that IT professionals remain mindful of the customers who will ultimately sign up for, benefit from and share their experience of the final result.

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