Personas – the term is based on the Latin persona – are fictional characters that represent a specific user group that you are designing for. Although personas may seem to be merely characters, building a persona is actually a strategy for synthesizing all the data that you gathered during the Empathy phase to learn about people and their needs.
As a design team, you cannot develop solutions for everyone who is suffering from the problem at hand. To focus your work, you will need to situate the development of your solution in a specific environment and for a specific user group. Creating personas helps you to understand who these users are and what worries and motivates them. Ironically, when you relate to these broader characteristics and features, also called themes of a user group, an effective tool is to work with a typical user – the persona. The persona is your tool for connecting general insights to individual circumstances.
The persona adds a human touch to raw data and general insights since you metaphorically walk in the shoes of a potential user. Using your imagination, you transfer your perspective: What would the world look like from the user’s point of view?
Creating a persona is an activity that gives you the opportunity to use all of the data you have gathered about the world of your users. In this learning exercise, you combine the data with your imagination to create a persona based on the user. The point of view of the user (the persona) that you come up with is not a fantasy but grounded in research and data as a sensemaking process of combining general data and insights to specific personal circumstances.
As an archetype, this specific, fictional person expresses more universal features. You will need to be aware that, without your carefully researched understandings and observations, your persona can easily become a stereotype based on assumptions and preconceived ideas about a representation of a group of people. The basis of the persona is the results of your research that you combine with your imagination, not with your assumptions.
By trying to make sense of your data together, the team engages in a process that helps you to understand what and who you should focus on to create a meaningful design. When you share the research insights with your team, you develop a common language for understanding what is going on in the world of your users. This collective effort to connect with users and other stakeholders may also help to align all these involved parties. So, the persona guides communication about the problem and all your design decisions.
Discuss all your data from the Empathy phases of Understanding and Observation to determine common needs, patterns, similar interests, etc. You may even find different persona groups. At Netflix, for example, you can categorize your users into groups interested in programs that are romantic or thrillers or even eclectic, progressive, or conservative.
You will need to discuss what to focus on because you cannot do everything for everyone. Select the most interesting and meaningful user group. Complete the Persona template with these details:
- Fictional name
- Job title and major responsibilities
Determine these psychographic aspects for your persona:
Demographics such as age and gender can be added when helpful. Note, however, that this data is not part of the template to avoid creating stereotypes. Netflix, for example, does not use these demographics since they have not proven to be useful for predicting user needs.
Add a drawing or picture of your fictional persona and a quote that sums up what matters most to them.
If your first version of the persona is on scratch paper, you may feel more inclined to revise and iterate. Remember that you do not need to discuss everything or even agree when you write out the characteristics so don’t be afraid to start quickly. Everything you do can be revised in a fun design process that starts immediately and runs smoothly.
Develop more than one persona if it is relevant and interesting to keep your options open and prevent you from a narrow vision.