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This article was written by Silvana Churruca between 2011-2014. Silvana is a UX Designer & Researcher with a strong multidisciplinary background: starting with Graphic Design, Arts and Communications, and later specializing in Cognitive Systems and Interactive Media, Product and Project Design Management, and Communication Design Theory. Follow Silvana on her LinkedIn.

From all over the techniques and tools related to design process and User experience, only personas appear as a consistent common denominator, even in methods against extensive "deliverables" as Lean UX. Most of the points of view agree that the secret of a great user experience strategy lies in this tool. Even so, the building process varies significantly.

Probably the most important reason to create personas is to set a common understanding of the final user so that a coherent strategy is defined that will result in a product/service that is user-oriented and meet the user goals.

This post and the further related ones came from a personal work aimed to define a guideline for creating personas in daily work. Actually, state of the art about personas is so extensive that this post doesn't pretend to say anything is not already out there, but I think you may find this structure and easy starting point.

In this first part, I will make a general approach; we will see the starting point and the basic methodology, and the main elements that are typically included in user personas. Later I will create different posts focused on the most critical and complex variables.

"Personas are archetypes built to identify our real users' profile, needs, wants, and expectations to design the best possible experience for them."
One starting points:

Remember, User Personas is a design tool. As a device is used for answers, fundamental questions that are made to drive design: What would %persona_name% do at this moment?. What would he need now? Do %persona_name% understand this?

The purpose is to put all stakeholders into the user's shoes (PO, PM, Developers, Designers, etc.).

Origins of User Personas

It seems to be that the origins of personas came from the marketing field as a tool designed by Angus Jenkinson. He created it to categorize customer segments beyond the traditional segmentation based on demographic and with the purpose to achieve a higher level of knowledge about customers daily life, needs, and desires, and he named this tool "CustomerPrints" (Check Jenkinson, A . ( 1993-1994 ) 'Beyond segmentation'). I recommend you to read Jenkinson's paper, include some exciting framework about the evolution of customer from a "class or 'clan' society to an individually created society" and the switch from traditional segmentation into grouping ("people who share common characteristics" as an appropriate response to this change. At the same time, you could see how these principles are the base of modern "personas," as a bottom-up approach, people-based and requirement driven.

Parallel to Jenkinson's work, Alan Cooper, creator of the Goal-Directed Design I mention in other posts, was working in a similar concept he names "User personas" and fully describe in his book "The Inmates Are Running the Asylum." Personas are described as hypothetical archetypes of actual users and defined by their goals, as the personas define their goals. The methodology introduced by Cooper starts with the investigation of the problem domain. And some of the guidelines described are:

  • Design for just one persona, and you will have tremendous success (The Primary persona, we could have more than one).
  • Using "the user" as a design tool is a mistake. The expression is to brad, and this vagueness causes many design failures. He named this issue the "elastic user," and the solution to this vagueness is the specification Personas represent.

When Donald Norman joined Apple in 1993, the team leading by Joy Mountford was already using something like personas. Personas are the primary tool for the User-Centered Design approach defined by Donald Norman and today's dominant design process for Software development. In the UCD process, the User Personas are built based on different techniques as exhaustive observation and interviews.

Common points across all user personas methods:

  • Personas are 'fictional' characters. Even so, they are created based on real data and research around a problem domain or a focus target. In UCD, the personas are made based on previous research. Still, in Lean UX methods, for example, personas are created originally based on assumptions (proto-personas) in a brainstorming session with the team and further checked against real data (See Gothelf, Jeff. Lean UX. Applying Lean Principles to Improve User Experience. 2013).
  • A product should have a minimum number of personas, so we focus on design, which may guarantee better success.
  • Personas must answer three basic questions: what are the user needs, wants, and limitations.
  • In User Personas, it is more important to be precise than accurate. This means they must be strongly consistent with themselves, so they don't get crushed during the development process ("It matters more than the persona is expressed with sufficient precision that it cannot wiggle under the pressure of development than it does that it be the right one ").

Main elements of a Persona:

If you do a quick search on Google, you could see a million different layouts. To create my guideline, I went through many of them, and as a result, I will summarize some main elements I saw in common, listed below.

Profile area: Where necessary demographic, geographic, and psychographic information are included, like age, residence country, or social class.

  1. Personality elements: This is the more inconsistent between all the personas layout I have seen. Personality is a very complex variable, and in most cases, I only saw a vague collection of qualifying adjectives. I do extensive research here, and I have come across a technique that allows you to give a more or less consistent categorization, based on the Myers-Briggs (MBTI) type indicators and the 5Factor Model (I will describe in detail in another post).
  2. Expertise: Area that represents character expertise about the domain (usually computers and internet proficiency level). I use here different variables depending on the product-focus.
  3. Must Does / Must Never: This area is probably one of the most actionable. Resume what they expect and want (must do) and what frustrates him and annoys (must never).
  4. Referents & Influences: Represent People, brands, and product that influence his relation with internet, computers and other devices, software, and app, etc. (This could change depending on the product/service domain)
  5. Devices & Platforms: This module reflect devices and platforms with which the persona is familiar. (This could vary depending on the product/service domain)
  6. Used product/service related to the field. Depending on the domain of the product/service could be, for example, software/apps.
  7. Archetype: This is a short denomination for the persona that tends to summarize them in a few words. Sometimes, it refers to personality characteristics; others define a relationship with the product-service.
  8. Key Quotes: simulate a Persona comment. Tends to reflect behavior or persona attitude as user
  9. Experience Goals: What are the user's expectations and priorities when interacting with the product/service or about the goal pursued?
  10. Brand-Relationship. Persona relationship with the specific brand and the product.
  11. Picture: The final touch for your persona will be a persona picture that illustrates your persona's personality and lifestyle.
  12. User type: I used as a quick categorization of user expertise using a four-level scale.

Methodology for gathering each point:

A key point for successful personas and the most extensive work I made was describing a methodology for fill-in in each persona element, following a standard method to create for different products without inconsistencies.

How we define personality?. How we measure expertise?…

I will describe each one of the methods in the other post, "DIY User Personas."

Finally, let us see how all these elements are presented in a persona layout:

User persona

*The original basis for this User Persona layout is a team-work, so thanks to Gerard Adell, Roger Espona and Ignacio Pastor

References and recommended reading:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Persona_(user_experience)

http://uxmag.com/articles/personas-the-foundation-of-a-great-user-experience

https://www.usability.gov/how-to-and-tools/methods/index.html

Cooper, Alan. ( 1999) The Inmates Are Running the Asylum: Why High Tech Products Drive Us Crazy and How to Restore the Sanity.

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