Personas are representations of users with similar needs and behaviors. They are a useful mix of research findings and fictional content to make a product’s target users feel ‘real.’

Personas are powerful because they start to add clarity to a product’s direction. Teams can pointedly discuss if ‘Tony the Silver Surfer’ would be interested in a given feature for launch instead of a more hypothetical discussion of importance. Further, they can be used to dissolve any personal bias that a stakeholder or team member may hold. By abstracting user needs and potential features to personas, a more strategic conversation can be had.

Because certain components of a persona are completely made up (like name, hometown or hobbies), stakeholders may have trouble buying into the legitimacy of the tool. Fictitious content should only exist on the periphery of the persona to help give it life; it should not become a focal point of discussion. It’s important to reiterate this during the persona creation and presentation process.

How do I create personas?

Personas should be created early on in a product’s lifecycle, following market research and user interviews. How much market research you conduct and how many people you choose to interview is dependent on your budget, timeline and product goals. I’ve found that user sentiment starts to echo after the fifth interview, and a study conducted by the Nielsen Norman Group suggests something similar.

Distinct patterns should be apparent at the conclusion of your research. These patterns form the basis of your personas. As you mine the data, look for commonalities amongst interviewees, specifically in terms of goals, motivations, frustrations and workflow. These insights distinguish one persona from the next and help illuminate the most pressing user needs. After you’ve identified the core, factual themes, add in the fictional elements. Give each persona a name, a tagline (“The Silver Surfer”) and a photo. Include a direct quote from one of the interviews to further encapsulate sentiment and personality.

What if I can’t conduct user interviews?

This is sometimes the case in heavily regulated industries or in some enterprise environments. While risky, personas can still be created based on general market research and stakeholder input. It’s important to note to stakeholders in situations such as this that the behaviors and needs of a user group are assumed and that there is risk in adhering to these assumptions without speaking to actual users.

Give it a try

Here’s a template we use at Skookum to help get you started. Let us know if this is useful by tweeting any feedback to @skookum.

Download: Skookum-Persona-Template.ppt