How To Make Impactful User Personas

“Every great design begins with an even better story”

Last week we discussed what a user persona is and the role it plays in UX design. This week, we’re writing about how to make personas, sharing our experiences, tips and learnings, as we navigated different people, industries, requirements and of course deadlines and pandemics!

Many times we hear, “Personas? Why do we need to make them? It’s a waste of time”, from clients. But without a buy-in from the stakeholders, it’s hard to even get started. While it’s true that many people know a lot about their customers, sometimes when the knowledge and assumptions are not aligned, the lack of common ground causes a churn in decision making. Therefore, one of the biggest benefits of creating and having personas is getting a clear picture of specific user types that everybody can focus on and align on.

Now, one of the things we mentioned early on, was that that personas cannot be the face of the entire target audience, nor can they be just one person. But they are a snapshot of relevant and meaningful commonalities in your customer groups. So how do you go from having so many different users like in the image below on the left…to just a handful on the right, who encapsulate your brand?

So, how do you start?

Get out of the office and talk to your user!

🙇🏻‍♀️ Understanding the User

The most successful personas are created by simply finding out the answers to three basic questions:

  1. Who are they?
  2. What is their main goal?
  3. What is the biggest barrier to achieve this goal?

In turbulent times like these, it is essential to adapt and improvise to ensure you still get to know your users.

A few ways to know our users are:

  1. Meet them in person: The best and most obvious option would be to visit your users regularly until you’re confident you have all you need to have a holistic understanding of them.
  2. 1:1 phone calls: When internet connectivity is a problem, voice calls can do the trick.
  3. Video calls: Allow you to virtually see the user, observe their environment, attire, their expressions, etc.
  4. Talk to people who are linked to your user: Who have known, interacted or met with them. But remember, don’t taint your study from a single observation or one bad experience about the user.
  5. Study their online presence: Display pictures, posts, status etc. can say a lot about your user.

Defining the Personas

There is no specific way to define a persona; they depend on the product or service you are designing for. Personas can be from identifying patterns in the important attributes like the user age group, product category, environment, usage method etc. For example one healthcare equipment brand can have personas based on the users’ age group, but another can differentiate personas based on the scale of the setup i.e. the size of the hospital or even hospital vs private clinic or based on different use — XRAY, CT, ultrasound etc.

Sometimes, after defining a project persona you may even realise or find that it’s not the only user using the product/service, but a secondary persona involved, who interacts with the main persona while using the product.

Always remember, authentic data is critical to developing true empathy.

✍🏼 Writing the Persona

It’s easy to get stuck in a design bubble and lose sight of who you are designing for.

Now that the basic information about the user has been collected, it’s time to start creating. Usually, a persona is presented in a one or two-page document; the descriptions include behaviour patterns, goals, skills, attitudes, and background information, as well as the environment in which a persona operates. Sometimes a few fictional personal details (e.g. quotes) or contextual details (e.g. fitness apps that include a person’s dietary preference), make the persona a realistic character.

So what are the different pieces needed to create a well crafted User Persona?

  1. Persona type: Defining their group or their role (e.g. Volunteer) makes the persona unique amongst the other personas in the set.

2. Fictional name: Having a name (e.g. Gayatri) makes the persona relatable and easy way for the team to refer to in discussions.

Pro Tip 💡: Don’t use celebrity names. They come with too much baggage that will overshadow the actual persona.

3. Photograph or Illustration: Pictures tell stories, thereby making them the most important and engaging part of the Persona. It colours how a team feels as it reflects the personality or a scenario. Therefore, it should not be a passport photo or one taken off of the internet. Ideally, it should a graphic designer’s illustration or a personally taken photograph.

4. Quote: One that summarises what matters most to the persona. Don’t make the quotes up and use actual things users have said. Pick a quote relevant to your product/service.

Pro Tip 💡: Keep the quote short, no longer than a tweet, like “Living in the community itself, I do experience what they do, which makes me more empathetic.”

5. Demographics: Includes age, gender, location, education, literacy, marital status, job title, income level, work experience etc. BUT only list the things that are relevant to the project context. For instance, for an app that takes surveys it would be relevant to know the age, education, job, location, technological knowledge and not the marital status or income. E.g. Gayatri is a 29 year old from Bharatpur, has studied Class 12th, has a family income average of Rs. 6000 monthly, uses smart phone etc.

6. Other details: Skills, preferred brands, social networks, favourite apps, technology used helps add weight and personalisation.

7. Description: A “day-in-the-life” narrative or scenarios that describes how a persona behaves or interacts — what (physical & social) environment the persona lives in, different activities/tasks performed, nature or attitude etc.

8. Psychographics: To provide insights on traits like:

  • Motivations 💪🏼: What drives the user to use/want the product, what are the possible triggers.
  • Goals 🏆: What the user wants to achieve from your product/service, how your/product goals aligns with their goals.
  • Needs 🔎: Allows you meet customers’ requirements better and more holistically.
  • Challenges/Pain points ⚖️ : Show what can be done to win customers’ heart and loyalty; what inhibits the user.

Having these specific user representations gets us away from designing for ourselves and arguing about what we think the user wants. To prevent this from happening, we try to create an immersive experience.

Pro Tip 💡: Printing out information gathered and hanging them on the wall is an excellent way to keep users in focus. Remember, out of sight, is out of mind!

📑 Telling their Story

“Every great design begins with an even better story” — Lorinda Mamo

Mamo believes that creating great user experiences are all about telling a story and bringing things to life. Once you’ve created your User Personas, give them context by writing their story; you’ll find you’re much better prepared to design their solution.

Building a detailed narrative around your user helps you to walk in their shoes and understand where they’re coming from.

In our next article, we’re going to address the many challenges we face while creating these personas — spoilers! There are quite a few. But we promise, it’s a happy ending.

Well, it’s time to wrap up this post. We’ve told you our story…and now it’s time for you to share theirs.

BRND Studio uses an integrated framework of Design Thinking and Human-Centred Design to build innovative solutions and solve complex, ambiguous problems.