How to Create a User Persona in UX

Having a certain target audience in mind is common practice in the world of design. It can lead the way throughout a design project and assist you in making more accurate decisions.

The same holds true in app or website design. While techniques vary when it comes to defining your target audience, a popular method in UX is to create a user persona. Ultimately, this practice should result in products that are more useful and meaningful to your users.

Read on to learn what exactly a user persona is, what makes it a valuable UX design tool and how to create a user persona in 5 stages:

What is a user persona?

A user persona is a fictional character that represents your target audience. Although it’s not a real person, it’s based on data and facts that you obtain through real-life interviews, surveys and other forms of user research.

As a UX designer, your task is to gather your findings and use them to define a realistic character that is likely to use your product. This information is normally displayed in a visual document, so that it can comfortably serve as a reference point throughout the design process.

Generally, a user persona document will include an image of the person, quotes, and details about any behavioral patterns, goals, frustrations and needs - all in relation to your product. Check out the persona example below.

Why you need a user persona

The procedure of crafting a user persona will help you get to know your audience. You’ll be able to identify key issues, such as your user’s needs, goals and pain points. Ultimately, this will result in a better tailored user experience, making your product more valuable and enticing for your audience.

You’ll also be able to make smarter and more informed decisions regarding your product. For example, which features could benefit your users, which type of logo they’ll respond to better, or how to word your microcopy in a way that will appeal to them.

Creating a user persona can add a human touch to the potentially cold or distant process of data-collection. It helps us bring the research to life through a character we can resonate with and understand their needs and expectations.

How to create a persona

Whether you’re working independently or as part of a dedicated product team, these are the five stages of creating a user persona:

Step 1: Conduct qualitative and quantitative user research

Start off by collecting data about your users (or potential users). This can be done in a number of ways, using both qualitative and quantitative research methods. Strive to implement a mix of both approaches for a more balanced and accurate result. However, this will depend on a few factors: your resources, how much time you have and which stage you’re at with your product. Figure out which research methods will be most realistic and beneficial to your project.

Examples of quantitative research:

  • Online surveys: This is a fairly simple and accessible way of doing user research, especially if you’re working on your own and don’t have the resources a larger company may have. You can use basic tools like Google Forms, sharing your survey in relevant groups on social media. These surveys can include both multiple choice questions and open-ended questions that will result in qualitative responses. It’s recommended to include your most important question near the top, increasing the likelihood of getting a full and well thought-out response. Often, the most important question will ask users what their biggest challenge is in relation to your product. Responses to this question are likely to give you deeper insights into your users, providing you with information that could be invaluable throughout the project.

  • Web analytics: Analyze certain factors such as the number of visits on a page, time on site and the path visitors take before converting to users. There’s different software available for extracting this kind of data. A good place to start is this guide on how to use Google Analytics.

Examples of qualitative research methods:

  • User interviews: These give you the chance to ask questions and receive in-depth information about an individual’s experiences with your product.

  • Focus groups: A type of group interview, where a small group of participants from your target audience discuss their experiences.

  • Contextual interviews: These offer a chance to observe someone using your product in their own environment, without asking pre-planned questions or giving them specific tasks.

  • Usability tests: There are different methods, but these are generally one-on-one sessions that involve observing a user’s experience with your product (or a prototype of your product), and identifying their frustrations and challenges.

Step 2: Organize your research

When it comes to mapping out your findings, all the different bits of information can get a little overwhelming. However, you’ll probably have already started getting a feel for your audience and gathering insights into user behavior through your research.

The idea at this point is to bring together your findings and condense them to reach a more solid analysis. You’ll want to observe the differences between the users and identify recurring themes, behavior and characteristics. This process will be different depending on the type of research you did.

For quantitative research, you can visualize your research using graphs. These will give you a clear indication of trends that you can then incorporate into your user persona(s).

For qualitative research, there are a number of options. While there are many online tools and websites for UX research, a simple method for visualizing data is to use Post-it notes. You can transfer quotes by users onto notes, then group together any similar or repeated themes. For example, perhaps a number of users brought up the same pain-point, concern or goal. Placing these together will help you see trends and thus gauge an understanding of your audience.

If you have more written responses from your survey or interview, you can gather all the text together, then copy and paste it into a word frequency counter. You’ll find many options online. This method will give you further insights into your audience by showing you what kind of language they use, whether it implies interests and hobbies, or demographics like age and background.

Step 3: Decide on a number of personas

At this stage, you’ll have formed a better understanding of your audience and its main user groups. So as not to get carried away, identify which user groups are the most important, and focus on them throughout the development of your product. There should be between one and four groups.

For each main group, you’ll be creating one user persona. Make sure there’s a clear distinction between the groups and that you’ve clearly defined each one. You can categorize them according to age and technical ability, for example, or perhaps you spotted three distinct motivations for using your product that should be separated into three user groups.

Step 4: Describe your personas

Great - you’ve gathered all your findings and are now ready to narrow it down into a specific persona. Use your research to define a few key details about your character, all the time remembering to relate it back to your product or service, whether it be an app, website or any other digital product.

A user persona should include the following:

  • Name: Create a fictitious name to make your persona feel more realistic.

  • Image: This can be a digital illustration of a person, or a photo from one of the many royalty free image resources. Having a particular character in mind can help you empathize and imagine them in various scenarios related to your product.

  • Demographics and dry details: This should include age, family status, job, location, education, background and technological capabilities. As opposed to the name and image, these should all be based on your research.

  • Psychographics: These include goals, pain points, behaviors and opinions. Pinpointing these details will encourage you to take a closer look at your persona and help you understand their motivations. What moves them to take certain actions, and why would they decide to use your product? For example, for an apartment searching app, a possible goal that could arise is to spend less time physically visiting apartments. A pain point for the same app could be that in real life, the apartments don’t match the photographs and descriptions that appear online.

  • Summarizing quote: This should be a concise sentence that sums up the one thing that your user persona needs the most in regards to your app or website. Although it’s made up, base the quote on your findings from the research, and imagine what your persona would say had they been a real person. Continuing with the example of an apartment searching app, a quote could be something along the lines of, “I want to find a new apartment in the most efficient, stress-free way possible.”

Step 5: Visualize your user personas

Last but not least, it’s time to design your user persona document. Look online for UI design inspiration to get ideas on how to structure your persona.

Ideally, your user persona will serve as a reference point throughout the whole design process, accompanying you and your team when making decisions about your product and helping you get through any potential creative block.

Making your user persona visually appealing, with clear points and an eye-catching design, will urge your colleagues to work according to it. After all, whether you’re collaborating with developers, copywriters, UX illustrators or web designers, the extensive research you carried out will serve as an invaluable tool for them, too.

You may also decide to include your persona in the case studies on your UX portfolio, another reason why you should pay attention to its design.

If you’re creating a few user personas, make sure to keep them consistent in terms of the design. You can play around with different color palettes and layouts, but the overall look should be cohesive. To cut down on text and form a more approachable design, consider incorporating infographics or icons, from one of the online free icon packs. Pay attention to hierarchy, emphasizing the most crucial bits of information, so that it will be possible to grasp the essence of the persona with just a quick glance of your design portfolio.

Text Dana Meir

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