Imagine yourself at the start of a big, complex project that will require transforming the performance of people. The project’s success depends on deeply understanding the goals, motivations, and behaviors of the people impacted, and crafting a solution that addresses these diverse needs. To connect with those users, you seek as much information about them as you can through surveys, interviews, observations, and analytics. From this data, patterns and insights begin to emerge, but you’re not yet sure how to organize the information in a way to make meaningful design decisions. That’s where personas come in.
Personas are a way to easily consolidate and communicate research about an audience. They are fictional characters who embody the characteristics, feelings, and motivations of real individuals, with each persona representing a significant portion of the audience. Personas are used during the design process to build empathy, gain alignment, set priorities, and solve the right problem. They can be built during a half-day working session or perfected by a team over weeks. The key is to gather as much information about users before starting, and use the process of building a persona to bring that information to life.
So how do you go about creating a persona? Let’s walk through the process.
Collect all sources of user research in one place. This may sound like an easy task, but it’s likely that each stakeholder on the project has a different piece of the puzzle. By gathering research in one place, team members can collaboratively begin to sort and filter through the data to find meaning.
Follow these best practices when collecting and documenting research to make the process more meaningful.
Put it on paper. Gathering research electronically is a good starting point, but finding connections across multiple sources is harder unless that data is brought “into the world.” Print research findings, and use sticky notes or index cards to capture key findings and main concepts. (Putting this on paper also allows you to physically arrange and connect pieces of information.)
Preserve users’ language. Keep quotations intact to preserve nuance and maintain objectivity.
Once you document the research, begin creating buckets that map to behaviors, attitudes, and feelings. One tool to help facilitate this categorization is an empathy map. The components of an empathy map include:
The process of crafting a persona requires adopting the mindset of a storyteller. Your personas are more than titles and job descriptions; flesh them out with traits and characteristics that reflect your intended audience.
Some best practices for developing personas:
Make them distinctive and memorable. Think of your favorite novel or movie. It likely contains dozens of characters, but it’s easiest to envision a handful of star players. Focus on main characters and not the bit players.
Give them names, not roles. Would you ever describe Homer Simpson as simply “nuclear power engineer” or Indiana Jones a “history professor”? Your persona names will become shorthand for so much more than their official job title.
Use a template to organize your thinking. Using a persona template to organize information is a great way to get familiar with the structure of a template. As you become more experienced with the process, you can tweak existing templates or build your own.
Tell their story.
By following this process for creating personas, you will come to know your audience intimately and thoroughly. This familiarity will guide your thinking about the performance solutions that are most impactful to them and help you understand (and communicate) their story to others within your organization. The result is a meaningful, relatable experience that your audience will respond to in the moment and remember in the future.