How to create a persona?

25 February 2015

If you’re on this site it means that you are probably already aware of what a persona is and you’d like to learn how to build personas well, or you’re searching for a comprehensive knowledge in this area. You’ve come to the right place and will surely not leave empty-handed or maybe I should say “with an empty head”. Let’s start from the very beginning, so…

What is a persona?

Personally, I’ve had a chance to come across this term in Jung’s works for the first time. Jung defines persona as “a way of adapting to the cultural model”. According to Jung people put on masks that help them to take on a social role: at work, at home, within the society.

This model is similar in UCD. Here personas are the archetypal representations of users that are utilized by designers and the whole product team to find a realistic and coherent image of end users for their product. While creating a persona we determine its basic demographic characteristics together with its personal traits, aims, needs, desires and personality. The most significant features of the well-created persona are credibility and complexity.

Personas are like Jung’s masks that we try on to “feel like the user” in a given role. We need to remember that just like one person uses a set of masks, a user also consists of several different personas used in various situations.

What are the stages of creating a persona?

Although the stages of creating a persona and their characteristics vary depending on the project and the team who is working on it, there are some basic elements without which a persona will definitely not be created.

The key element here is to realize that a persona is the reflection of a real person. This is why the more genuine it is, the better. It’s best to create personas on the basis of research and analysis.

We can obtain such data in several ways: directly from the client who is working on the product/service with us; from marketing and advertising agencies. I would advise to be considerate and careful while working with agencies. Very often we can pay for personas which do not offer a deep understanding of users’ needs.

If we lack such data we need to define the group of end users for the product. Creating adequate and useful archetypes is not an easy task, it requires time and consideration.

When should we build personas?

Every time! Especially when we are working on user experience. Personas are the staring point for the project. They help in visualizing all the information about the user. Usually several personas are created for the needs of the project, sometimes there can be more than five. With a larger number of personas used it is worth to pay attention if our persona addresses the needs of the user at every stage of designing the product.

When personas facilitate the discussion…?

You’ve probably had a heated discussion on what is useful and where it should be placed in the design with the team and the client on numerous occasions. When you are running out of arguments personas come in handy. They protect the users and remind us that users’ opinions are the most important.

…and when they become zombies?

When you totally forget about them! You created them at the beginning of the project and have never referred to them later on. They became unwanted, unloved, unnecessary or they were incorrectly designed in the first place. Remember to create only good personas.

As always, it’s all about the user

The most important thing in the whole design process is to remember who we are designing for. Well-constructed persona is an invaluable tool during the creation of the product or service. We can refer to it at any stage of the process.

The basic elements of every persona are:

  • first name, last name, age, occupation, origin, social role
  • photo (very important here is that the photo should be really natural)
  • short description: bio, family, hobbies, dreams, aims, life philosophy
  • technical skills: internet proficiency level, frequency of internet use, devices used for internet browsing and when they are used
  • project/product-related: verification of all frustrations (what makes user’s life more difficult) and needs (what makes user’s life easier, what the user really wants)
  • narrative e.g. description of the typical day of the user