What Are User Personas?
Personas are fictitious, specific, concrete representation of target users. Personas put a face to the user – a memorable, engaging, and actionable image that serves as a design target. They convey information about users to your product team in ways that other artifacts cannot.
Personas have many benefits:
- Personas make assumptions and knowledge about users explicit, creating a common language with which to talk about users meaningfully.
- Personas allow you to focus on and design for a small set of specific users, helping you make better decisions.
- Personas and engender interest and empathy toward users, engaging your team in a way that other representations of user data cannot.
In other words, personas will help you, your team, and your organization become more user-focused.
In this 7 post series, I will be referencing “The Essential Persona Lifecycle” as I walk you through how you should create your user personas. For other related posts, please see Your Sales Funnel and The Customer’s Journey and Customer Journey Mapping: Everything You Need to Know! We’ll look at an end-to-end set of methods and tools designed to support persona practitioners from the moment they decide to try personas until well after the completion of the project.
Many persona creation efforts fail due to:
- The effort was not accepted or supported by the leadership team.
- The personas were not credible and not associated with methodological rigor and data.
- The personas were poorly communicated.
- The product design and development team employing personas did not understand how to use them.
The persona lifecycle is an end-to-end set of methods and tools designed to support persona practitioners from the moment they decide to try personas until well after the completion of the project. Building personas from the assumptions is good, but building personas from data is much better. Personas are not documents. They are shared ideas around who your users are that must come to life in the minds of the people in your organization. Personas are highly memorable, inherently usable communication tool if they are communicated well. Personas can be initiated by executives or first used as part of a bottom-up grass-roots experiment, but eventually, they require support at all levels of the organization.
As long as personas are well built, data-driven (or otherwise validated and agreed upon), and thoughtfully communicated, the product team can use the personas that come to exist to generate new insights and seek the right details when they need them. Personas are not a standalone, user-centered design (UCD) process but should be integrated into existing processes and use to augment existing tools. Lastly, personas can be created and show their value quickly, but if you want to obtain the full value from personas you will have to commit to a significant investment of time and resources.
Five Phases of the Persona Lifecycle
“They essential persona lifecycle” book outlines five phases in this framework that bring structure to the potentially complicated process of persona creation and highlight critical aspects of persona use:
- Family planning – Before we begin a persona effort, we should figure out what problems we are trying to solve and what materials (specifically, data sources) are already available for us to use.
- Conception and gestation – Organize assumptions; turn data into information and information into personas.
- Birth and maturation – Create a persona campaign and introduce the personas to your organization.
- Adulthood – Use the personas in specific ways to help during the design, development, evaluation, and release of your product.
- Lifetime achievement and retirement – Measure the success of the persona effort and create plan to reuse or retire the personas.
Phase 1. Persona Family Planning
Persona development begins with family planning. This is a research and analysis phase that precedes the actual creation of personas. During family planning you will focus on:
- Creating a core team of colleagues to help you with the entire persona effort;
- Researching your own organization to violate the problems and needs of your company, organization, or product – Once you understand the need see you hope the persona effort will address he can evangelize the persona method and prepare the product development team for the persona effort;
- User research and identification of data sources that will provide the raw materials for your personas;
- Thinking strategically about how you will introduce and support the personas and your organization.
Family planning ends when:
- You have established that personas are right for your organization and current project;
- You have buy-in from key individuals and have completed initial research and data gathering;
- The persona team is in place;
- You have created a solid plan for the rest of the persona effort that suits your product teams needs;
Phase 2. Persona Conception and Gestation
In this phase, I explain how to extract useful information from disparate data sources and use this information to build personas. During the persona conception and gestation phase, the life cycle process helps you decide:
- How many personas you will need to create to communicate the key information in your data;
- Which qualities and descriptive elements you should include in your persona documents and how to tie these elements back to your original data sources;
- How to prioritize and validate your personas;
- How to decide when here personas are complete and ready to be introduced to your product team.
A lot of the work during this phase centers on collaboratively filtering data and organizing information – Information that arises out of data you collect in family planning and information that arises from other sources, such as inherent knowledge of how people behave, Your business or product strategy, the competitive marketplace, and technological affordances related to your product domain.
The information you identify will help you understand the particular user roles, user goals, and user segments that uniquely describe your target users. When you have isolated information about your users’ roles, goals, and segments, you will be able to determine what personas you should create to capture and communicate the most relevant qualities of target users related to your product domain and business strategy.
Phase 3. Persona Birth and Maturation
Like parents sending young children off to school, you and your core team will send your persona into your organization to interact with other people. The personas are fully formed but many continue to evolve slightly over time. Moreover, throughout the remainder of the development cycle, here personas woke can’t continue to develop in the minds of your product team. Problems at this phase might involve a lack of acceptance or visibility and other problems that lead to persons that die on the vine and disappear from the project. Successful persona birth and maturation require a strong, clear focus on communication to ensure that your personas are not just known and understood but also adopted, remembered, and used by the product team. A few items to consider:
- Creating a persona campaign plan to organize your work in birth and maturation and adulthood;
- Introducing the personas to the product team;
- Ensuring that personas are understood, revered, and likely to be used;
- Managing the minor changes to the persona descriptions that become necessary after the personas are introduced.
Phase 4. Persona Adulthood
Personas are all grown up in the adulthood phase and have a job to do. You have introduced the personas to the product team and have worked to clarify the role and importance of the personas. You have encouraged the product team to embrace personas and information they contain, and now it is time to help everyone use the personas to inform the design and development of the product.
Phase 5. Persona Lifetime Achievement, Reuse, and Retirement
Once the project or product is completed, it is time to think about what has been accomplished and to prepare for the next project. You will want to assess how effective the persona method works for your team in the product development process. If you are beginning to think about the next product, you will need to decide whether and how you will reuse your existing personas and the information they contain.
The end of the product design and development cycle is a good time to assess the effectiveness of personas for the team and to take stock of lessons learned for the next time. How did the development team accept the method? Where are your persona skis for? To what extent where are they accurate and precise?
In the coming posts, I will touch on each one of these phases and go more in-depth. I hope this post has brought you value. I love to hear from you in the comments below. Please let me know if you have attempted to create personas for your organization or product and how it went!