User Personas: Step-by-Step Guide
In the first part of this article, I explained the definition of user persona, what is the goal of creating it, when is the best time to make user personas and how many of them you need.
In the 2nd part of this article, I want to focus on how to actually create a good persona and what are the elements it should consist of. I also add a few tips from my personal experience of creating personas many times before. You can also download our great template to build your own user persona down below!
So let’s start. The personas are so effective because they are built upon real data about your target audience. It all seems rather straightforward and easy, but… how to actually start creating them?
The main steps to create your user personas
Conduct user research
The first step to create user personas is to gather data about your users. The best way to gather comprehensive data is to apply both quantitative and qualitative methods to your research.
For quantitative research, you should gather as much data as possible. The most common way to collect information about your (potential) users is to run closed-ended surveys and pools. This way, you will know general information about your customers – demographics, their occupation, the time they spent online, and so on.
Qualitative research requires much more effort but is necessary to truly understand your users. You put yourself into their shoes by observing their verbal and non-verbal behavior, including their facial expressions, body language, and emotions. To achieve this, meet them in person and conduct deepened user interviews.
You can also shadow them as they do everyday tasks, or observe how they use your or your competitors’ products. If you don’t have the possibility to meet your users in person, consider conducting a survey consisting of open-ended questions.
Plan your research wisely to make sure the time was spent as efficiently as possible.
The type and amount of methods you choose should correspond to the time and resources you have. I personally recommend taking some time to do the research properly, because it will serve as a base for lots of design and business decisions in the future.
Consolidate the gathered data
Now that you conducted user research, you face large amounts of data. To organize it, you should look for schemes and consolidate them into user segments and their main attributes. Use data ranges to reflect all of the important information about each user group.
There are a few methods to make data consolidation easier. The most common is the use of spreadsheets, especially to consolidate results of surveys and user testing. If you use more research methods, you might find it easier to organize the results into affinity diagrams or empathy maps. The empathy maps are also a great way to supplement user personas in the future.
Create your user personas
Once you consolidate all gathered data into user segments with ranges, you can derive user personas for each segment. Make sure each one represents its group well and highlights its most important attributes and details. Try to make the persona as similar to a living human being as possible. To make it easier simply follow the guidelines and tips in sections below.
The process described above is the most common way to develop personas but it may vary depending on a project. In each case, to be effective, personas should be accepted and understood across the team and all stakeholders.
What should a user persona consist of?
A persona is not an actual human being, but it should be described as and give a feeling of a real one. If it feels fake, it means it is not done the right way. To achieve this human-like impression you should pay a lot of attention to the description of a persona.
Follow our guidelines and tips to be familiar with the most common attributes used to describe user personas.
A name & profile photo
The persona has to be fleshed out. The goal is to make the persona memorable for everyone in the team, so it needs to have a clear, consistent identity. Give them a fictional name that is fairly common, eg. “John”, or more descriptive like “John the Admin”.
Next, add a photo. It should reflect the average age of users from the segment. It should also give an impression of their financial status and personality. Make sure the photo is consistent with all of the information about the persona you collect. Avoid using photos of well-known faces, including the ones of your coworkers and celebrities.
A sum-up quote
It’s beneficial to sum-up the persona with a 1-2 sentence quote that best captures their personality in the context of the product.
You should add a demographic profile based on real data. The chosen metrics depend heavily on the project, but the rule of thumb is to include age, occupation, education level, the location of a persona, and its family status.
Your products should answer directly to your users’ goals, so this information is crucial for every aspect of your business.
Basic questions to answer: What does the persona want to achieve in relation to our product or service? What are his/her goals and needs?
Every activity people take is motivated by something. If you understand your users’ motivation, you can use it to your advantage and propose a glove-like fit solution.
Basic questions to answer: What is the persona motivated by? Why does he/she have such goals? What could possibly, realistically, drive him/her to the product or service?
Your users try to achieve their goals all the time. The question is: how do they do that? If you know their journey, you can learn from it, make it easier, or propose something new that will be better adjusted to the audience.
Basic questions to answer: What does the persona do to achieve the stated goal right now? What does the journey look like?
Whenever you are building a new product, or want to improve an existing one, you should be aware of the frustrations your users face on a daily basis. You should know if the products on the market are good enough, or if there are any pain points you can cover.
Basic questions to answer: What issues and pain-points does the persona currently face within the given context? What is he/she struggling with? What stops him/her from taking action?
Users spend most of their time using other apps and websites than your product and by using them they acquire certain habits. It is crucial to keep it in mind and know these habits and expectations well to not confuse the user.
Basic questions to answer: What does the persona expect from the product? Does he/she have any habits from using similar products or services?
Surroundings constantly affect user behavior, including where they live, what they do in their spare time, what technical devices they usually use, and so on.
Basic questions to answer: What technological devices does the persona use? How do they spend their free time?
It is especially important to know what type of platform to focus on and how to embrace the technology not to surprise or confuse users.
Basic questions to answer: How tech-savvy is the persona? How fluently do they use new technologies? Do they use social media, or mobile apps often?
People’s personality traits determine their behavior and decision making, so choose them wisely.
Basic questions to answer: What are the most dominant personality traits of the persona? What drives their behavior?
Brands & Influences
Surprisingly, you can tell a lot about people just by observing what influences their decisions. If it is your competitor it will be beneficial to take a look at their marketing tactics.
Basic questions to answer: What are persona’s favorite brands that influence his/her behavior?
The points listed above are the most crucial information that persona should consist of. These are a starting point that can be customized according to the project, for example, you can also include a short bio, daily routines, hobbies, job responsibilities, and much more. I have also collected a few handy tips that will help you create effective user personas:
Use real data
Don’t just make things up. Don’t base the persona on assumptions nor guesses. If you do, you will create a user you would like to have, not a user who actually is on the market.
There’s a saying “design for someone who does not exist and you will have no customers” and I totally agree with that. The more you move away from real data, the less effective and useful user persona will be.
Keep your persona alive
Don’t just create and leave it for the next few years. People change, technologies evolve as fast as never before. So do user behavior and expectations. You should update your personas with continuous user research to ensure the best possible match to the target group during each stage of the project.
If your product is already used by users, you can run customer surveys or scan the performance through analytics tools. If you have more time and resources, it’s always beneficial to run more qualitative research, for example user interviews, usability testing, diary studies, and so on. It will help you to keep track of constantly evolving user needs.
Make sure the descriptions of user personas you create are appropriate and consistent. Otherwise, it will feel fake and you may end up with an inconsistent, chaotic product.
Make them feel human
If your persona feels cold and doesn’t feel like a real person, you can add a bio section that will cover the background of the persona. Remember, user personas have to be memorable and their goal is to create empathy and share an understanding of the target group, so try to imitate a real human being.
To express the more human side of the persona you can also use the details of your real customers (acquired during the research phase) or you can base it upon your customer’s social media profiles.
Keep it serious
Remember, it’s a business document. Personas serve as guidelines and help to support business and design decisions, so avoid adding irrelevant, unnecessary information. If you want to add some details that are not related in any way to the product, omit it. Be serious and specific.
There are plenty of templates on the web that really speed the work up! At Setapp we use a user persona template that involves all crucial information in one place. Sign up down below to download it, it’s completely free!