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What, Why & When
Persona Building is a tool that helps better understand the target group when designing a product or service. In Persona Building, a specific fictional user is imagined with his or her experiences, needs and characteristics, and the prospective product or service can be developed more specifically for this persona. This is mostly done in business for marketing purposes, where the personas are potential customers or people to pitch an idea to. It can nevertheless also be helpful for any design process that aims to fulfill the needs of a specific audience (see Design Thinking)
- Understand your target audience's needs and wishes and establish a common reference point in your design team.
- Facilitate and speed up design and decision-making processes.
- Make the outcome more user-focused and distinct.
Persona Building starts with the gathering of data about the target groups. This can be data that already exists, such as large-scale surveys, information on potential user groups such as the SINUS milieus, or observations made in terms of the audiences of comparable products and services. It can also emerge from knowledge and experiences within the team, or be original data gathered for the specific design purpose, if the resources are available for that.
Based on this data, overlappings and trends about the targeted audience are identified. The persona that is subsequently built should represent these identified elements. Importantly, a persona should not become a prototypical or stereotypical puppet. A persona is not the sum of survey data or a demographic group. Instead, one should attempt to imagine an archetype of a potentially real person with flaws, contradictions and different facets. No more than a handful (three to four) personas (if more than one at all) should be built at once in order to maintain a sharp idea.
Each created persona should possibly include a drawing or picture of the imagined person and his or her name. This way, the persona becomes more vivid and recognizable within the project. Furthermore, the persona should be described in terms of his or her characteristics: his or her background, hobbies and job, lifestyle, family situation, needs, problems, preferences and desires. This helps understand how and why the person would be interested in the to-be-designed product or service, and how it can be adapted and improved to better fit the persona's circumstances. The designers should try to understand their offer from the persona's perspective.
Lastly, the persona should be implemented into the design process. From this point on, all team members should know about the persona and speak in terms of his or her specific needs and actions instead of speaking about broad needs of a potential target audience. The persona can be thrown into imagined scenarios and situations to understand how he or she would react. This way, the design process becomes more user-focused. Also, all team members, which may come from different disciplines or departments, now have a common reference point to speak about.
Let us develop an example. Imagine you are attempting to develop a solution for smart mobility in the city. You may be working in the city planning department, or in a start-up that tries to develop new technologically or socially innovative solutions. You do know what the general service should be - something that makes cycling more attractive in cities -, but you are unsure of the specificities.
Now Persona Building comes into play. You develop a handful of Personas based on the target audience you want to provide with new opportunities for a change in their mobility behaviour. So, first of all, we think of Lisa.
Lisa is 30 years old and has a six year old daughter, Nele. Lisa works at an insurance firm in a middle-sized town and rides the bike to work. She likes cycling, also with her daughter, but the city only has bikelanes for some parts of her commute and into town. So, Lisa is frustrated about the stressful interactions with cars, as well as concerned about her own and her daughter's safety. Lisa would be ready to pay some money for a good solution, but she doesn't want to give up cycling.
We must make sure not to make Lisa a hippie-eco-cyclist-stereotype, but her situation is surely archetypical for many people in cities nowadays. You could think of more details in terms of Lisa's personality, her hobbies, her background and future, but the most important points are set: You know Lisa's situation, her problems, desires and circumstances - at least those that concern your design process.
So, Lisa is now your first persona. The solution that might fit her needs and circumstances might be different depending on your design context (More bike lanes? A product that makes cycling safer on streets?), but focusing on Lisa and her daughter makes it easier for you to make decisions and find a solution that fits her needs. By developing even more personas and incorporating their needs into your design process, the product will become more and more graspable and finally, you have a solution that is hopefully attractive for your target audience.
Links & Further reading
- UX Planet. How to create Personas, a step by step guide.
- Medium. Your guide to successful persona building.
- UXPRESSIA. How to Create a Persona in 7 Steps - A Guide with Examples.
The author of this entry is Christopher Franz.