Personas

Stereotypes to empathize with target groups.

What?
Personas are fictional profiles representing a particular group of people, such as customers or employees. They should be based on research and often represent a group of people with shared interests or common behaviour patterns. Personas are ‘characters’ with which design teams and organizations can engage.

Why?
Classic descriptions of target groups are often based on market segmentation using demographic criteria and the like. In our experience, these segmentations do not reflect different expectations or behaviours. Therefore, we rather use criteria like interests, behaviour, and expectations to differ between customer groups. However, when you design a service it is hard to empathize with rather abstract descriptions of a group of people. Personas are a way to describe such a group of people in a way tat is easy to understand and everyone can easily empathize with. It is important to both describe the person as a human being (background story, common behaviour, a quote, etc.) as well as a stakeholder in context of a service (interests, expectations, etc.). In some companies Personas become place holders for certain groups. Sometime, employees start talking about "Robert" or "Angela" and thereby have a sound common understand baout who they are talking about.

Creating personas for your company might lead to new insights who your customers really are and what they really expect and need from your service or product. Some companies realize that their market segmentation was rather constructed and did not reflect their real customer base. Designing products and services based on well-defined personas helps you to uncover needs, increase customer experience and streamline processes. Personas are the basis for any customer journey map and are also helpful for tools like stakeholder maps, prototypes, or business model visualizations.

How to create personas

(the simple way)

People: 5-15 people with good knowledge of your customers (e.g. frontline-employees).
Material: Persona templates, pens, tape.
Other: A room. Some coffee and cookies help as well..

  1. Split the participants in teams of two or three people.
  2. Each group creates 1-3 personas of their most common customers as well as two extreme customers (their most stressful customer, their dream customer, ).
  3. Each group presents their personas and hangs them on the wall. Cluster similar personas together.
  4. Let the group define the most common personas (or most profitable).
  5. Visualize your results and enrich personas with facts (share and enhance with other stakeholders).

How to create personas

(the comprehensive way)

Research, research, research and then derive your personas from patterns you'll find. There are many good resources on this topic – mainly form the field of UX design. Here's just a small selection.

Books:

  • Adlin & Pruitt (2010): The Essential Persona Lifecycle: Your Guide to Building and Using Personas.
  • Goodwin (2009): Designing for the Digital Age: How to Create Human-Centered Products and Services.
  • Mulder & Yaar (2006): The User Is Always Right: A Practical Guide to Creating and Using Personas for the Web.
  • Cooper (1999): The Inmates are Running the Asylum: Why High-tech Products Drive Us Crazy and How to Restore the Sanity 1st.

Blog post:

  • If you're interested where personas come from, here's a nice blog post on the origin of personas by Alan Cooper: The origin of personas.

Video:

  • If you rather like to watch a video, here's a nice talk by Kristen Johansen and Jill Christ on how to do personas and how to avoid "bullsh!t personas" (Thanks for the tip, Jelmer De Zwart): Persona Research and Design

Common questions

Send us a mail if you have other questions...

- How many personas do I need?
Short answer: Probably something between 3 to 7 core personas. It's unlikely that you'll have less than three different target groups. It is however likely that you won't really use personas in your work if you'd have more that seven of them. You simply wouldn't really remember them.

- What is the difference between assumption-based and research-based personas?
Assumption-based personas are just based on the assumptions you have of your customers (or any other group you'd like to represent with personas). The simple method to create personas described above uses an assumption-based approach, but by including several people you validate your assumptions with others and thereby increasy the validity of your personas. It's not perfect, but a very practical approach with decent results. Research-based personas, however, are based on sound qualitative and quantitative research. It is a more time- and resource-consuming approach, but of course personas derived from (good) research are much more valid. So, it comes down to a question of budget. Read on to learn what you shouldn't do though.

- What are common pitfalls with personas?
The most common pitfall in our experience is that you create personas based on dream customers. Personas you won't find in reality. This is often the result if people who are not in touch with customers on a daily basis create personas purely based on an assumption-based approach. This personas are rather useless, but might be a good starting point to validate your assumptions and improve your knowledge about your customers needs, expectations and experiences... ;)

- How can a find a good name for my persona?
You should never use names from celebrities (even worse: photos from celebreties!). In western cultures, the first name is often connected to the age. Check what were common names for people in this age and chose on of these. The last name is often connected to the region where your persona is from. So, as long as you have an age and a place of birth, you shouldn't have a problem with finding a reasonable name.

smaply: Personas

Some tips how to visualize personas

Quickly progress workshop results

You can use smaply to quickly progress your workshop results from sketched paper templates to professional deliverables.

Use real photos

Use realistic photos instead of celebreties or colleagues. Sometimes a photo of a friend of yours nobody else knows works just fine – if your friend is ok with this.. ;)

Chose an icon

A unique icon for your persona helps you to navigate faster in your customer journey maps or stakeholder maps.

Add useful details

Only add useful details to your persona. It is useful to know some of their background story, but three pages about their childhood might be too much to comprehend. Rather think about their needs, their expectations, their behaviour patterns, etc.

Export to pdf

Export your persona to pdf and share it with your team. You can also invite them to your account to work in a project together.