Demystifying personas for design research

July 15, 2014 • Contextual Inquiry, Design, UX Methodology • Views: 5365

As UX designers within a large financial organization, me and my team often get asked by other parts of the business how their teams might be able to incorporate UX practices into their process. Just the other day, one team within the company approached us and asked if we could help explain what personas were and how it might be of benefit to their particular system they were building. They were building a new application that catered to a wide user base, and had specified all the functionality they wanted based on business analysis. However, they had no idea how to go from their detailed excel spreadsheets to creating UI screens for the application. How might they be able to create a system that caters to wide range of users? They had heard of “Personas” and wanted to know more… and indeed that was the right direction. The key to designing UI screens is understanding who you are designing for. So, my colleague Charlotte Richards and I took 30 minutes and sat down with them to walk through what Personas are and the how and why to create them.

What are personas?

  • A persona represents a cluster of users who exhibit similar behavioural patterns in their decisions and use of an application.
  • They are profiles of fictional people based on research, surveys or interviews.
  • Personas are not a list of tasks, duties or responsibilities. They are archetypical users whose goals and characteristics represent the needs of a larger group of users.
  • They function as stand-ins for real users to guide decisions about design and functionality.


The key components of a persona are:

  • Attributes – what demographic is the user and what are his/her attributes? What environment do they work in (fast paced, detail oriented, etc)?
  • Goals – why is the user using a system? What goals do they have, both short term (daily tasks) and long term (high level goal of why they are using a system) .
  • Needs – what does the user need in order to accomplish his/her goals? Does the user need other systems in order to accomplish his/her tasks?


How can I start making a persona?

  • Personas are made by conducting contextual inquiries or one-on-one interviews with targeted audiences. Once enough interviews are conducted, patterns of behaviour will start to emerge and it becomes possible to group various people who exhibit the same behaviour under one “persona”.
  • It safe to assume that these people will use the system in very similar ways, and hence require the same user interface (UI).
  • The most effective way to gather relevant data is to conduct research in context (ie: at the users home or workplace, depending on where they use the system). This technique allows us to gain insight into the users environment, providing insight into behaviours, attitudes, and motivations that would otherwise not be uncovered in a survey or focus group.


Why would I use Personas in my projects?

  • Personas are made at the beginning stages of UX, and will help keep everyone on the same page.
  • Whenever a decision is made on what functionality to add and how to design it, the same question should be asked each time: does it work for the personas?
  • As personas are based on user research, they can help eliminate assumptions about users and ensure that the system offered is relevant to them.


How do I convince the business that it is worth investing in UX?

  • It is much easier to change system design before it has been developed.
  • By investing in proper user research before any design begins, both business and design decisions will be more informed and ultimately deliver a more successful product.
  • Good personas will help to get the design right for the users at an early stage, rather than spending the same money (or more) with multiple redesigns or increased client support costs if the system isn’t usable.


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