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The field of UX design is based on a simple and powerful set of ideas: Design products with users in mind, Inject empathy into your designs and create interfaces that function in the most natural way for users. Personas answer questions such as “Who are your customers?” or “What do they care about?”  In this article, we’ll talk about what user personas are and why they’re so important.

What is a user persona?

Who are they? To understand what this one user needs, it is helpful to identify the user persona — a fictitious description of an idealized user of your application. User personas are great for figuring out who your target customers are and what their needs are. A user persona is a fictional representation of your ideal customer: they describe in detail the interests, needs, and pain points of your ideal customer. User personas are also great for giving you direction when building digital products. Understanding your users’ challenges, motivations and goals help you think about how to solve their problems, rather than build features they may or may not actually want.

A “user persona” is also a representation of the user on which you base design decisions. Personas help designers imagine users’ needs and goals more concretely. To get to know your customers, you need to create user personas (archetypal representations of your users) based on in-depth interviews and extensive qualitative research. User personas are a combined attempt to synthesis user research, insights, and other challenges in a way that puts the users’ needs in the centre. This what helps companies focus and build value for their users. In essence, the aim of the personas is to make sure that the needs of the customers are at the centre of the design process.

History of user personas

The first personas were created in the early 1990s when researchers began to discuss ways groups used technology and how they interacted with their everyday lives. Views on user models were largely shaped by “personas”, or archetypes of people in various situations as informed by quotes from the real world submitted by IT professionals and designers. In this way, a representation of a singular group emerged for each archetype.

Why do you need user personas?

For companies, creating exceptional products starts with an understanding of their target audience. User personas are critical because they help identify the characters behind these users and why they use your product. Personas help product teams find the answer to their most pressing question: “Who am I designing for?” By understanding the key desires and concerns of the user personas, it’s possible to design a product that will satisfy customer needs and therefore be successful.

Here, we’ll discuss why user personas are essential for the design process:

  1. User personas are a proven way for product teams to show alignment: It gives product teams a powerful vision for user experience. They evolve over time as users do, giving businesses more insight into their customers’ needs and wants over the lifetime of relationships with a brand. 
  2. They are central to creating a product that accurately reflects the needs of its audience.
  3. Designers need an image of their user to create a wonderful user experience. The more vividly they imagine their users, the better. Using user personas can help designers to visualize their users tangibly.
  4. User Personas are a very useful tool to give designers and developers a clear vision of what users want. 
  5. Personas help designers shape a better user experience. User-centric design thinking helps companies identify and understand the needs of their target audience, which results in better products.
  6. Personas help designers empathize with their users. By identifying the specific needs of your personas, you can gain an understanding of; What they need, When will they need it, How will they feel when using a feature.
  7. Mentally visualizing personas can help designers better connect their product with real users later in the process.

Characteristics of a good persona

When it’s time to design the user experience, some designers hesitate to use personas — characters that represent your users. A persona does not need to be a complex user experience tool. Instead, think of a persona as a solid launcher for UX creation. A great user persona has some of these attributes:

  1. Personas are real users, every single detail about them directly taken from data and observations. A persona is not a guess. 
  2. Personas mirror user patterns, not just different types of users. Think about the patterns in interactions between various kinds of users: between fellow users, as well as between users and employees.
  3. The future isn’t set. That’s why a persona shouldn’t be created to predict how users like the future, but instead to focus on their current state when interacting with your product.
  4. A persona is focused on a specific domain of interaction with a product (e.g. something specific in our app), not necessarily how might or will interact with your company at large.

Creating user personas in the design process

Building user personas is a crucial first step in the design process. The research that goes into forming personas usually happens very early. Most designers start with the Define phase, but important persona building can take place throughout the entire Design Thinking process. Personas act as touchstones during the different stages of development. They help you test if your ideas are good and worthy enough to be shared with others, and they give valuable insights when testing products or services on users. User stories are helpful when testing your concepts using prototypes and validating them with users. They give actionable insights that enable businesses to test their products or services before sharing them with others.

Steps to take when creating personas

User personas are created in a plethora of ways: it could be based on your budget, type of project and how much data designers collect will determine that. However, this article isn’t going to dive into detailed step-by-step instructions on how to create personas, but it is still possible to provide some general ideas on what should be done when making them.

  1. Gather information about your users: The first step to creating a successful user persona is doing research. You need to understand your target audience’s mindsets, motivations, and behaviours. This will help you shape the best personas — distilled from in-depth user interviews. In other words, to create an accurate persona you must study actual people. There are several ways to get information about them, depending on the stage of your business and resource constraints. Work toward a balance between qualitative and quantitative analysis to build the best strategy. Finding out everything about your users is essential to crafting a real-world user persona. You just can’t know everything about your users. But if you ask them lots of questions and observe them in all sorts of scenarios, that will help make an archetypal persona more representative of the real people you are designing for. The role of personas is to gain insight into your users’ needs. It is therefore important to generate personas of typical but still realistic users. Completely fictional stories of soul searching individuals based on little or no data may produce interesting book characters, but have no value for the design process and are harmful to it. In addition, unconvincingly constructed personas can brandish an entire project as amateurish and underthought. 
  2. Identify behavioural patterns from research data: Next, take the research and figure out what the user types are. Your goal is to see patterns in the data so you know that users can be grouped into types of users. You’ll want to notice what is different between your users or customers and identify patterns. This will not be the same across all user types. The central premise here is to summarize everything you’ve been researching and condense your ideas in a way that creates a less jumbled analysis.
  3. Decide on the number of personas: Step by step, let’s get to the heart of things. At this point, you’ll have discovered who your audience is. As a result, focus on the most important user groups as you move forward in the product development process. There should be one to four groups of users. Each main group of customers you are targeting should have their persona. Make sure each one is distinct and that the needs personas need to cater to are clear. For example, categorize users by age and technical ability or perhaps spot three motivations for using your product that varies from each other.
  4. Describe your personas and tie them to a scenario: Nice work! You’ve done a great job so far, and now let’s take your findings and put them into practice. Use the data you’ve found to shape your persona, always connecting back to your product or service. Keep the focus tight, whether it be one key insight about how your users communicate with each other or what helps them accomplish tasks online. A user persona should include the following: 
  • Name and Picture: A name makes the example real and relatable to your brand, while a picture of a typical user helps show what they do day-to-day.
  • Demographic and dry details: Example personas must have concrete details on age, gender, level of education, family status, etc — so you can see how they relate to your business. It may also include the job title and company size. The job title provides relevance between the user persona and your company
  • Psychographics: What do you think is on their minds? You should take a closer look at each user persona. This will help you understand what your customers are focusing on most. This makes up everything we need to know in-depth to learn how to better appeal to the customer and galvanize support for your product. You should work closely with these details by honing into personality type, goals, behaviours, opinions and pain points.
  • Bits of personality (e.g. a quote or slogan that captures the personality): Take what you learned from the persona profile research, and imagine that your persona was real. What would s/he say about this statement? Use a direct quote that addresses one of their motivations or problems.

Also bear in mind that personas are not standalone or lightweight deliverables. They should be tied to a series of thoughtfully written use cases, and cover a specific type of identity, gender, profession and life stages — providing granular detail about who the persona is, aside from simply stating ‘Steve is 35 years old’, for example. A thorough and well-written scenario can help connect personas with each part of the system, correctly allowing designers to see what users will need to achieve their goals. Don’t include specific names or details of research participants or people you know in your personas. Doing so could cause a bias in the objectivity of your user personas.

5. Collaborate with your team and discuss your findings: Your design team shouldn’t be strangers. People in the company, especially those who are not designing, most likely think designers hang out together and swap ideas around all day. In my experience, this could not be further from the truth. The way to overcome these misconceptions about designers and help your co-workers is by … you guessed it — socializing stakeholders. If people on different teams feel like they know what’s going on behind the scenes, they get along a lot better and can jump in and chip in. Needless to say, each member and stakeholder should have a positive association with personas. Everyone associated with the team must see the value of constructing realistic, actionable individuals. As these individual personality types become more familiar, they become like other members of the team.


User personas are great tools for designers. They guide the design process and help to create a good UX for users. Remember, a good UX is about creating experiences for real people! A quick way to do this is to use personas. This is because personas provide analogues for your ideal users — analogues that you can quickly jot down and refer to as needed.  By keeping their real users at heart, designers can work more simply and mindfully. As you’re discussing different strategies with the marketing team or other teams, pulling up a user persona can help you communicate in a language everyone understands. Everybody pitches in to make user’s journeys better. A user persona is a tool that helps the development team to better understand the people who use their product. It’s the best way to make an emotional connection with your users since it puts a face on someone who uses your product.

Start designing your persona now! Click here to download a free template.

Amaka Odozi

Author Amaka Odozi

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