Personas are fictional characters created to represent the different user types within a targeted demographic that might use a site or product. Personas are useful in considering the goals, desires, and limitations of the users in order to help to guide decisions about a product, such as features, interactions, and visual design. Personas are most often used as part of a user-centered design process for designing software and are also considered a part of interaction design (IxD), however they are also used in industrial design.
A user persona is a representation of the goals and behaviour of a real group of users. In most cases, personas are synthesised from data collected from interviews with users. They are captured in 1–2 page descriptions that include behaviour patterns, goals, skills, attitudes, and environment, with a few fictional personal details to make the persona a realistic character. For each product, more than one persona is usually created, but one persona should always be the primary focus for the design.
The use of personas as a technique was popularised by Alan Cooper in his 1999 book The Inmates are Running the Asylum. The book outlines the general characteristics, uses, and best practices for creating personas.
So, how do you actually go about creating a persona or a set of personas for your project? The following is based upon work carried out by Dr. Lene Nielsen in her 2004 thesis and published in HCI Vistas.
Finding the Users
The initial step is to get hold of as much knowledge of the users as possible.
- Who are the users?
- How many are they?
- What do they do within the system?
- Contextual interviews
- Online surveys
- Second-hand information
- Reports (e.g. from marketing)
- Cultural probes
Building an Hypothesis
Working with personas really means focusing on users in a certain context, which originates from the project that is being researched. Often companies have a certain way of talking about their users, or should we say customers, which does not take into account the different context in which the users use a website or a system.
- What are the differences between the users?
- Looking at the material
- Labelling groups of people
- A draft description of the target groups
The focus here is on finding data that supports the initial patterns and at the same time supports the personas descriptions and the scenario writing.
- Data for personas — What are the likes/dislikes, needs and values?
- Data for situations — What are the areas of work and work conditions?
- Data for scenarios — What are the work strategies and goals. What are the information strategies and goals?
- Quantitative data collection
- Does the initial labelling hold true?
- Are there other groups to consider?
- Are all equally important?
- Task analysis
- Descriptions of categories
A crucial step is what to include in a persona’s description and how to avoid creating stereotypes if at all possible. The purpose of a persona is not to describe users as such, but to create solutions that use the needs of the persona as a starting point.
- What are their basic attributes — name, age, gender?
- What is their psyche — introvert/extrovert?
- What is their background — occupation and interests?
- What are their emotions and attitude towards technology, the company or the information needed?
- What are their personal traits?
- Descriptions of categories
The real purpose of the personas is to create scenarios from the descriptions. Each need or situation is the beginning for a scenario.
- What is the need of this persona?
- What is the situation?
- Looking for situations and needs in the data
- Catalogue of needs and situations
Validation and Buy-in
Personas are often viewed as a means for communicating users (read: customers) to developers and stakeholders, but it is as much about a process that ensures a user-centered development.
- Do you know someone like this?
- People who know (of) the persona read and comment on the persona descriptions
Dissemination of Knowledge
Not only do personas need to be distributed to everybody on the project, but also the data behind the personas and how and for what you are to use the personas. Many projects forget to inform and teach developers and designers on how to use the personas, how to think in scenarios or how to use them in the use-cases.
- How can we share the personas with the organisation?
A scenario is like a story, it has a main character (the persona) a setting (somewhere the action takes place), it has a goal (what the persona wants to achieve), it has actions that lead to the goal (interactions with the system/website/device), and last but not least, it has obstacles that block the way to the goal. Scenarios should be both positive and negative.
- In a given situation, with a given goal, what happens when the persona uses the technology?
- The narrative scenario, using personas, descriptions and situations to form scenarios
- Use Cases
- Requirement Specifications
Finally, always update information on the personas, afterall you may find some interesting scenarios that weren’t originally considered, or new situations in which the system/website/device is used. Indeed you may discover new personas!
- Does new information alter the personas?
- Usability tests
- Focus groups
- Surveys (online)