We all come to a point, in our projects, where we need to re-center our work efforts on the user. We all know who our target audience is, but it is sometimes hard to keep it in mind when things go fast and you only have a limited amount of time before delivering something that works. However, our efforts will be useless if our project doesn’t coincide with our user’s needs. This is where personas can be very useful and help you focus your efforts on what’s relevant.
In this bog post, we will go over the different steps of creating your own personas, how to handle your interviews and how to use them. After reading this, you should be able to start creating personas for your projects.
A. Did you say persona? What the h*** is that?
1. Concept origin and definition
The concept of personas was first introduced by Alan Cooper in his book « the Inmates are Running the Asylum » published in 1999.
A persona is a fictive person that represents a portion of your system’s users. It is not representative of everyone. However, it is based on real data. A persona is the archetype of one type of users and there can be multiple personas for only one system.
Some people also work with what is called a proto-persona. Those are imaginary personas because they aren’t based on real user data. Usually they are meant for temporary use only and are updated with real personas as soon as real data is available.
2. Personas vs target-marketing
As its name implies, target marketing is a marketing strategy that consists in attracting a specific audience that will be more likely to buy what you are selling. This audience is called the target-market and it is defined by characteristics selected in advance.
Rather than being opposite approaches, the use of personas and the target-marketing strategy are quite complementary. Indeed, the use of personas provides target-marketing with real data. This method gives substance to the targets through traits of character, habits, etc. from real users.
3. Strengthen your marketing strategy with personas
Working with personas has lots of positive impact on your marketing strategies. Here are some of them:
- Personas help develop empathy. They give your team the ability to predict other people’s behaviours.
- As archetypes, personas are easier to understand than real users.
- They create a positive attitude within your team and generate creativity and curiosity.
- Creating and using personas doesn’t require much efforts.
- They help stay focused on the user and limit comments like “my neighbour thinks…” or “my mother will not understand…”.
- They help prioritize features.
B. How can I create my own personas?
1. Define target and variables
The first thing you need to do is to define a target and some variables. You can define your target based on your target-marketing strategy or based on analytics.
The variables are the characteristics of the user that you want to discover.
- What user does
- How often he does
- How he does that
- What user thinks about product or sector
- Study level
- Learning ability
- Why user is involved in product sector?
- User ability and knowledge about product sector?
NB: Socio-demographic data aren’t part of the variables because it is very difficult to link them with observed behaviours.
In addition to that, each variable will have several scales.
Activity on the forum:
Only read message => reacts (comment, like, etc.) => post content, text, picture, video, etc.
Often => never Reacts (comment, like, etc.) Often => never
Often => never
2. Organize interviews
2.1. Create a semi-directed interview guide
A lot of methods can be used to collect data: web analytics, surveys, interviews, feedbacks, etc. Each method has its advantages and weaknesses. In this document we only consider semi-directed interviews. It’s the most frequently used method. It’s simple, efforts and costs are well balanced.
A semi-directed interview is not a survey, you can’t ask all the questions on your question list to the user and nothing else because it could give you biased data and you could be missing important facts. You must leave place for the interviewee to talk freely about his habits.
Before your interviews, you need to create an interview guide. Your guide must contain a list of information you need to get from the interviewee. It will help you make sure you get all the information you need but also help you redirect the conversation if needed. Writing an interview guide as well as conducting a semi-directed interview is a job in itself, agencies like ours can help you with that.
2.2. Schedule interviews
You will need approximately twenty complete interviews to create your personas. We suggest you schedule twenty-five or thirty appointments in case some people don’t show up.
Consider thanking participants with a gift certificate. It can go from €15 to €30 according to the time needed for the interview. Some profiles such as executives, researchers or health professionals will have to be rewarded with €100 to €150 gift certificates.
You can recruit participants by contacting professionals, panellists or using social networks (Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn are particularly effective), forums, and even word of mouth.
3. During the interview
In order for your interview to go well, here are a few things to keep in mind:
- Welcome the user.
- Offer him a drink and break the ice.
- Introduce the subject of the appointment.
- Don’t just ask questions, let the conversation go.
- Refocus the conversation if the user gets off topic.
- Use your interview guide to take notes and monitor progress.
- If the conversation fades, restart it by talking about one of the remaining themes.
- Don’t hurry the user.
- During interview take notes and record (with the user agreement)
- After the interview, thank the user and give him the reward (gift card for example).
C. How can I make use of the important data collected?
1. Data Analysis
1.1. Defining trends
Once you’re done with your interviews, you need to analyse the data you collected. The first thing on your agenda is to define the trends emerging from your conversations.
Here are the things you need to do:
- Create an analysis-grid based on the collected data.
- Group similar behaviours and identify patterns.
- Create a persona for each group.
- Synthesize the characteristics of participants in each group.
- Prioritise persona (primary persona must match the marketing target).
Now that you have all your personas, create a sheet for each of them (you can find templates online).
In addition to that, you can make a real-size representation of each persona.
Your sheet must contain at least these information (some information may not be relevant and other information can be added):
- First name and last name
- Environment (place, etc.)
- Tools (device, services, software…)
- Frustrations, needs
- Motivations, goals
- Personalities, character
- Context of use
- Frequency of use
- Product and business perception
1.3. Addition of an online survey (optional)
Now that you are done with your live interviews, you can use the collected data to create an online survey to validate them. Beware though, if interviews must always leave place to open discussion, surveys, on the contrary, should include mostly closed-ended questions.
2. How many personas are too many personas?
Recommendations are to not have too many personas. You must have a primary persona and you can consider two or three secondary personas. Some projects require a lot of personas, others are satisfied with only one.
3. Bring it to life!
Once your personas have been created, you must present them to your team (your entire team) during a meeting. All team members need to have enough time to understand and absorb them. After that, show your personas in your workspace. Having a human-sized printed persona is quite a “must-have”! Bring them to life: use your personas every time it is possible.
This article is based on:
- Cooper 1999 and 2004, Bornet & Brangier 2012 and 2013, Pruitt & Grudin 2003 and 2005, Turner & Turner 2011, Norman 2012, Miaskiewiez & Kozar 2011, Idoughi, Seffah & Kolski 2012, Mathiews & Judge 2012.
- Lallemand Carine et Gronier Guillaume, Méthodes de design UX, Editions Eyrolles, Paris, 2015, (Design Web).