What are Personas?
Personas are fictional representations of actual users. They come in many forms, but all serve a specific purpose and target audience. Personas are a result of extensive research and data analysis from sales or user profiles to determine the most likely user or reader of websites and documents.
To create an effective persona, they must:
- Represent a major user group for your website.
- Express and focus on the most important needs and expectations of that group.
- Provide a clear picture of the user’s expectations and how they are likely to use your site.
- Assist in uncovering universal features and functionality.
- Describe real people with backgrounds, goals, and values.
Developing Persona Models
Persona development starts at the beginning of the project to inform site functionality, uncover gaps, and provide new opportunities for improvement.
There may be more than one persona depending on the main audiences, but limiting development to no more than three or four works best. It is better to address the needs of the larger groups rather than focusing on smaller groups that have less impact on sales and message. The goal in creating personas is not to address all potential user groups, but to concentrate on the most important needs of the most likely user of your site.
To make sure personas are accurate representations, you should:
- Conduct user research to answer who your users are and why they are visiting your site. Make sure that you understand their behaviors, assumptions, and expectations that drive their view of your system.
- Condense your research to find specific themes or characteristics that are specific, relevant, and universal to your system and your users.
- Brainstorm to organize elements that represent your target user into your personas and name or classify each group.
- Refine each persona into primary, secondary, and complimentary categories to make sure you are identifying your target users properly.
- Make your personas realistic by giving them names, families, pets, and hobbies to understand their background, motivations, and expectations.
The Persona Lifecycle
Adlin & Pruitt (The essential persona lifecycle: your guide to building and using personas. Waltham: Elsevier, 2010) describe the stages of persona development similar to human development. In these stages each persona becomes more closely connected with the user’s needs and expectations. They are:
- Family planning — This initial phase is where the decisions about what problems should be solved, what materials or data sources are available to use, and those that will be necessary to acquire through additional research or data collection.
- Conception and Gestation — This phase is where the writer organizes assumptions and turns data into information that will be used for the persona model.
- Birth and Maturation — This phase incorporates information gathered in the first two sequences and is converted into a campaign that will be introduced to the organization.
- Adulthood — This is the phase that will be used in specific ways to assist in design, development, evaluation, and release of the product.
- Lifetime achievement and retirement — This phase is used to evaluate the success of the persona and create a plan to reuse or retire the model.
The Benefits of Using Personas
Personas ensure focused decisions related to site components by adding a real – world consideration to the conversation. They also provide a quick and inexpensive way to test and prioritize site features throughout the development process. They also help:
- Stakeholders and leaders evaluate new site features and ideas.
- Information architects develop informed wireframes, interface behaviors, and labels.
- Designers create the overall look and feel of a website.
- System engineers and developers decide the best approach based on user behaviors.
- Copy writers ensure site content is written to the right audience.