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User eXperience

What is a User Persona in UX Design? A Complete Guide

In the course of making products that resonate with user needs, user experience designers have to devise means to walk in the user's shoes. They use several UX tools to empathise with the users in the hope of capturing their needs and behaviours.

User personas are one important tool for this purpose. They represent the target audience of a design project and contain crucial information to aid the designers fully understand and create innovations tailored to users.

In this article, we will take a deep dive into user personas in UX, their place in the design thinking process, and how to make one that truly captures your design goals.

What is a user persona?

Personas aren't peculiar to UX design. Marketing efforts are sometimes centered on target personas. So, chances are that you have heard about them.

User personas in UX design are simply a way to represent the target users of a website, app or other digital product using fictional characters.

While these personas are fictional, everything about them must be based on actual data from user research. They represent real people with real objectives, needs and opinions. Which is why they are great tools for empathy-driven design.

Another important characteristic of personas is that they are context dependent. While it might be tempting to include all sorts of data, good personas focus only on information relevant to the design.

The goal of a good persona in design thinking is to answer the following questions:

  • Who is your ideal customer/user?

You need to thoroughly understand the audience for which you are making a product.

  • What behaviour do they exhibit?

What are their inclinations and motivations and how can you factor that into your product?

  • What are their needs and goals?

Your target users are lacking what you need to offer in your product. It is important to find those out.

  • What are their pain points?

The target users could have pain points using other products, your product can solve them, hopefully.

In the iterative model of the popular design thinking framework, every phase leans on insights obtained from users, more importantly — the beginning stages of the process where the designer attempts to gain a deep understanding of user motives. A daunting task no doubt.

A user persona is possibly the most vital tool the UX designer has to create in the course of defining the users and their problems.

A UX user persona makes it easy to design for an audience by adding specificity and helping create a more relatable and effective design process. Also, with multiple personas, you can conveniently represent different user segments in your design objectives, making your product a more rounded and useful one.

Okay, but you might be wondering—  what are these personas made of anyways?

Parts of a user persona

Most personas include all or most of these segments:

  • A header
  • Demographic profile
  • End goals
  • Frustrations
  • Behavior and Psychographics

To explain these components, we will use a user persona created for a seat reservation app for a local movie theater.  

Example of User Persona


This persona depicts the experiences and needs of movie fans who have to book a ticket using traditional means — standing in long tight queues.

The header section

This section usually contains an image representing your persona. Since personas are fictional characters, a random picture will do just fine. However, if you are targeting a user segment that is predominantly of a given gender, e.g, a product for men's hygiene, then it is reasonable to use a picture of a man.

Another part of this header is a simple quote that nicely summarises the most vital needs or opinions of the users. This quote can help to buttress the design objective.

For instance, in our movie theater app, we have this quote from our user:

For me, finding seats and putting up with people finding theirs is the worst part of going to the theaters.

This gives us an insight into how the users think and the problem our design has to solve.

Demographics

A user persona in UX design represents your ideal user. Some experts suggest that it should carry enough information to make it seem real— but not too much to deviate from the goal.

The demographic section contains personal information such as age, occupation, location, etc, and other details of the user that are relevant to the design process.

The importance of a demographics section is disputable; some designers believe that it has no bearing on the design process and opt to skip it entirely. In fact, be careful in using factors like age, location, etc, as these can easily lead to the development of stereotypes, defeating the entire idea of empathy.

But a demographics section can add more depth and life to a user persona. To fully empathise with a user, designers need something that is real and engaging — adding relevant personal details and other information about an archetypical user is a nice way to do this.

End goal

Every user has an end goal, the reason for using your product. Users are either looking for a solution to their problem or more enjoyable experiences with other products.

In the UX user persona, you need to clearly specify what the goals and objectives of the users are. This will make it easy to reference and keep them in mind throughout the design process.

On the other hand, the frustrations of the user are another factor that should be included in the persona. Why? Because you need to know:

  • What are the user's frustrations with a product or an experience?
  • How do they feel or what do they say while having this experience?

These are some important questions that the designer needs to answer in the empathise stage of the design thinking process as they can help you come up with better ways to make products that are satisfying.

Back to our seat reservation app, from interviewing the users who frequent the theater, we were able to find out the average user's problems:

  • Standing in long queues to get a ticket.
  • Not sitting at a specific position inside the theater.

These issues are clearly stated in the user persona and are what our movie app addresses.

Behaviour/psychographics

Understanding the sentiments and emotions of your users can make you deliver even more impressive products to them.

That is why it is important to take note of user behaviours in the Empathise stage. During user interviews and usability studies, pay close attention to what users say, how they think and their general attitude toward questions and tasks.

You can add these noted behavioral patterns to the user persona to provide more depth to your character.

How to create a user persona in UX design

To create a good user persona, a user experience designer has to put a few things in place— unbiased research data is one of them. Personas are expressions of data and facts, therefore, they need to be thoroughly planned.


Step 1: Conduct research

Personas are essentially an engaging and simple way to relate real user problems. Therefore, the first step to creating a user persona is obtaining enough data from the target audience of your product.

User research is a vital skill for every UX designer and also marks the starting point of the design thinking framework. It is important to note that failing to conduct user research objectively — without UX biases can lead to misleading data and an inefficient user persona.

As a designer, employ recommended interview practices in your interaction with participants, e.g, use open-ended questions, employ both qualitative and quantitative techniques to diversify data, survey a large sample, etc.

Step 2: Identify themes

Most people who analyse data hope to find patterns, UX designers are no different. Patterns in the data from user interviews tell you the important themes to make the focus of your design.

In your data analysis, map out users who have similar observations, needs or opinions on the given context into segments. Sometimes, you can end up with multiple segments and distinct objectives.

These segments are what you need to target in your design and they have to be an integral part of your decision-making process.

Step 3: Develop personas based on patterns

Depending on the individual user groups you create from mapping out the observed patterns, you can create a persona or sometimes multiple personas for user groups in your research.

These personas are supposed to realistically and uniquely depict these user groups.

By using user personas, UX designers can have a concrete target and well planned design goals for their projects, they can serve as guides along the design journey.

What are the benefits of user personas?

User personas are very popular tools used by user experience designers in their day-to-day tasks. While it is common to abandon personas early on in the design process, that is bad practice. User personas are supposed to be an integral part of your design journey.  

Create empathy-driven designs

The goal of the design thinking framework and other user-centered design processes is to drive innovation through empathy.

Empathy means understanding and sharing the feelings of someone else.

This is a difficult task, to think like the user, designers need as much help as they can get. That is where a tool like the user personas comes in handy.  

Using UX user personas, the designer can get a more intimate association with the motivations and behaviours of not one but several potential or existing users of a product.


Gives direction on design decisions

Since design is focused on achieving solutions that cater to the needs of users, it is only sensible to let these needs serve as maps— alongside the brand's objectives—  that direct the designers to the final product.

A user persona in UX clearly states the needs and objectives of the design's audience. Therefore they help designers create the product's problem and goal statements for the projects. Without these tools, the designer fails to place users front and center.

Also, in subsequent phases, designers can make informed decisions with user personas in mind. For instance, these tools can help them avoid self-referential design pitfalls where they design with themselves in focus.

Help communicate design goals

Most user experience designers work in teams or have to communicate with stakeholders at different stages of the design process. For instance, they could be expected to brief other members of the team on the expected course a project is to take.

A user persona is an effective tool for communicating important design decisions to interested parties. With a good user persona that is based on valuable data, designers can better communicate their progress from the empathise stage, and other related factors needed for the project's progress.

What are the categories of user personas?

There are three major categories of user personas used in UX design and they are:

Ad Hoc persona

In some scenarios, the designers and other stakeholders might want to test some early ideas or find common ground on their assumptions, they can represent users by creating ad-hoc personas based on just assumptions. These kinds of personas are rapid and only in place for the alignment of ideas in the team.  

Qualitative persona

This is a more popular type of user persona in UX design. To create a qualitative persona, UX designers conduct user interviews usually with 5- 30 participants, the goal of this interview is to identify themes that they can turn into actionable insights through personas.

Statistical persona

Sometimes, there could be a need for a qualitative and quantitative approach to making user personas. In statistical personas, the designers first carry out a small qualitative survey to identify major themes. Then, they can conduct large-scale quantitative surveys to further refine these themes into actionable insights.

Conclusion

User personas are important tools for empathy. The design thinking framework relies on how well the designers can relate with and understand the user. Through personas, designers can give life to characters that stand in for users and easily represent research-backed goals and objectives. This greatly improves the designer's task and centers the users in the design process.  

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