Part 1: What is user persona and what you should know before creating it

Read this if you don't want your user persona to go to waste.

Part 1: What is user persona and what you should know before creating it

This article is written with insights and expert advice provided by 55 Minutes, a Potato Productions company. 55 Minutes is a human-centred design studio that provides UI UX services.

Target audience is a broad term. Who are you really creating and designing your product or service for?

Let’s say your target audience is entrepreneurs. One team mate may have the expectation that entrepreneurs are most concerned about funding, whereas someone else may think that their main challenge is looking for partners. It becomes a battleground of who’s right and who’s not.

What we assume may not be true either. (Source: CIOL)

Everyone on your team has their own assumptions on what your target audiences’ goals, needs and problems are. Being able to align your expectations and create a product that truly addresses your target audiences’ problems will lay the essential foundation to propel your business to success.

And having a user persona is a way to get everyone on the same page and identify the right user.

User persona explained

User persona is a set of archetypical descriptions for a fictional target user of your product or service.

This is a user persona crafted by 55 Minutes for a project, looking into the context of a new hire in a mid-sized company

Crafting a user persona does not only mean defining their age, gender, demographics, but also what they do, what they care about, the problems that they are facing and the goals they are trying to achieve. By understanding your target users’ psychology - motivations, expectations and aspirations, you will be able to better empathise with them.

Why do you need it?

Using the phrase ‘target user’ doesn’t tell you much about your target users’ characteristics or psychology. Your team might even get confused - who are you referring to?

Say your user persona is called Debbie. By referring to Debbie during meetings, it acts as a shorthand for all the characteristics, goals and needs of your ideal customer. Everyone on the team can instantly have a similar set of expectations and it helps the team to align to the same goal of finding solutions to solve Debbie's problems. No assumptions needed.

The value of calling your personas’ name and having a set of scenarios about them (background, motivations, expectations) also helps the entire team to acquire a human-centred mindset.

How so?

Treating their target audience as a real person rather than target objectives constantly reminds them that the end user or service beneficiary will be a person eventually. The team will be inspired to come up with specific tangible solutions for Debbie.

Before you get too hasty and jump straight to the ‘how should I create one?’ process, let’s first circle back. Starting the process right will make sure that your user personas are used correctly after they are completed.

Why do people not use it after creating it?

Crafting a user persona is considered one of the ‘must-haves’ for any business. It’s a buzz word thrown around easily, but how many businesses really follow through with the process of using it? It can be really easy to abandon the user personas you constructed at the beginning of your product development phase and shelf them away forever.

Let’s go through a few reasons of why they are not properly utilised and what can be done to maximise them.

1. Not everyone was involved in the creation process

Having someone in charge of the user persona creation process is a good idea. But not when the assigned person decides to take on the task all by himself.

Crafting user personas is an activity that requires all hands on deck. Everyone in the team should be present and getting involved - either they are asking questions or they are discussing and answering them. It’s important not to have a lone wolf who dictates the whole conversation or a secret covert group working on it privately.

A huge element that often determines the usefulness of your user persona is the initial buy-in. If everyone is deeply invested in the creation process, it means that the completed personas have gotten the stamp of approval from every single person on the team.

2. Not considering what is relevant to you

One of the most common reasons we hear from business owners who bury their user personas is - the information on the personas is simply irrelevant and not helpful.

There’s often a herd mentality of doing what everyone else is doing: answering every single question just because ‘that’s what other people do too’. But there’s really no need to feel pressured to follow suit. Your user persona should be unique to your own business.

Start by choosing the right template. Always pause to consider how it relates to your product or service:

That’s how you can determine:

  • If a section or question is relevant
  • If you need to remove or add a section

For example, if your business is to provide a learning digital platform for primary school students, you need to include a ‘digital learning platform or channels’ section that your target customers (for instance, students) currently use and how frequently they use them.

If your business’ aim is to create an online e-book shopping platform, include which of the current platforms/channels they are frequently using.

For both cases, as the businesses involve digital platforms, we would recommend including a ‘device or technology’ usage section to learn about which devices, technology (such as apps and websites) and software they use.

This is an example of a user persona that 55 Minutes created for Spudnik Lab, for a mobile device that they are creating. Take note of how the information is skewed towards a technology angle, which is relevant to their product.

Whereas, if you run a clothing label, you would know that such a section is irrelevant to you. Instead, you might want to consider which shopping malls or fashion stores your customer is going to.

3. Having broad and generic answers

A quick search for ‘user persona templates’ on google can bring you tons of results.

Some templates are free for all, which means they are designed for ANY company to use, regardless of industry, product or service. The questions asked might be way too broad, and in turn, you might end up giving vague answers. And you don’t want that! This ties in with the previous point of choosing the right template to use.

The main purpose of having user personas is to understand a person's (your representative target customer or user) specific needs, pain points and motivations, within their specific context.

This inspires the team to come up with innovative and specific solutions that a person can resonate with. Naturally the persona cards should encourage the team to think about the specific ‘what’, ‘how’, ‘where’, ‘why’ - and come up with focused solutions.

4. Not knowing how to use your user persona

Okay great, you have created your user personas! Then... What now?

Here are 3 practical ways you can proceed:

Next step: Creating user personas

The last thing you want is for your team to say, ‘it’s useless! We did it before but have never used it’. And that becomes a reason for them to not create user personas again down the road.

Are you now better equipped to lead your team to create user personas? Bravo!

In next week’s article on ‘How to create a user persona’, we will take you through the user persona creation process  - When you should do it and how to fill it up. Hold on tight!

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