If you are involved in User-Centered Design (UCD) work, you need to know about personas. Personas are a means of summarizing an audience segment targeted by a product development effort as a fictional character. For example, if a team intends to launch a product for a specific group, the first step would be studying the group in detail, and the next step would be summarizing the data about the group in the form of a persona. Doing this helps teams determine product requirements, charts design direction and increases the odds of success.
Below are broad steps and tips for creating personas.
The first step in creating a persona is knowing which market segment or worker group to study. In the enterprise market, a persona can be defined as the worker group, or groups, whose work will be affected by the product or system being developed. Once you know the worker group to study, the next step is to identify the business objectives. That is, what is the technology supposed to do for the worker group? What impact is the technology supposed to have on the business? How will it be determined whether the objectives have been met? The answer to these questions may impact what data collection methods you use. There are many methods used by researchers including: Contextual inquiries, interviews, surveys, diary studies, usability testing and data mining. Once the data is collected, it needs to be analyzed. When analyzing and collating this information, it is important to look for common patterns and trends within and between worker groups. This is particularly important because personas should describe groups as a whole, without too much emphasis on edge cases. Think of them as averaging all the information about individuals in a group to identify a common description, much like averaging a collection of numbers to describe the set.
Once the information is collected and analyzed, it’s time to write the persona. Writing personas are more of an art than a science. Personas should be written with the business objectives in mind and highlight users’ challenges and needs to be overcome by leveraging their goals, behaviors, preferences and cutting-edge technology. Examined with task analyses, scenarios and experience maps, they should arm teams with the materials needed to brainstorm effective and innovative solutions for meeting the business objectives. A good format to follow is to start by highlighting the persona’s goals, preferences and desires. Next, highlight frustrations, challenges or pain points that are obstructing them from realizing their goals. Lastly, conclude this by enumerating clear needs. The needs should be written such that the reader finds it natural to begin brainstorming solutions to meet the needs right after reading the persona. This typically causes great discussion during workshops.
Picking a photo and name may sound simple, but it can be the most challenging part. Even if all data collection, analysis and reporting are done correctly, the persona’s name and photo can prevent stakeholders and teams from taking the persona seriously. Now is not the time to use cliche names or show stock photos of models. Think carefully when selecting a name. It should sound like people from the user group. The photo should also look like an individual from the group. Make sure the user group is being represented accurately with the persona’s age, gender and attire. Violating these rules will subvert well executed research.
Personas have many benefits. If done correctly, the benefits outweigh their disadvantages. They can inspire teams and stakeholders to think of creative solutions, focus design efforts towards a common end, and make vast and complex information easier to think about and act on. If using a persona to summarize a user group, augmenting them with scenarios, task analyses, and experience maps will make ideation sessions and the products that come from them very successful, increasing the likelihood of meeting specific business objectives.
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