Personas in UCD – Just a Pretty Face?

How do Personas fit in User Experience and User Centred Design?

Sarah the Shopaholic

Personas plural of per•so•na (Noun)

The aspect of someone’s character that is presented to or perceived by others.
A role or character adopted by an author or an actor.
‘an archetypal representation of a user’ ‘Not real people’
‘a design target that helps everyone focus on users’ needs’

                                                                                (From Google)

I recently started as UX Research Manager in Paddy Power and these are a couple of the questions our UX team recently grabbled with when we were looking at the use of Personas as part of a User Centred Design process.   And here are a couple of things we came up with…

Just a pretty Face? Why do we need Personas?

I have been involved in Persona building exercise before which didn’t serve much purpose bar creating pretty profiles that impressed clients.

So why do we need Personas?
Two main themes emerged from our discussion

  • Continuity about process
  • Focus on the User

Some other reasons for building personas from the textbooks:

  • Make knowledge about users explicit and to test some of those assumptions we hold as an organisation
  • Bring raw data alive and communicate insights – paint a picture – Tell a story
  • Inform and justify design decisions
  • Design for the critical and not the exception – identify your most important users -help you prioritise and make decisions
  • Language and communication within team and with stakeholders
  • Show differences and relationship between groups of users

How do we arrive at a Persona?

Cooper (2007) says starting with a demographic grouping is okay but it is better to identify primary behavioural variables such as user activities, attitudes, and motivations as starting points for Personas.   And to do this by first undertaking research with users.

photo of workshop
We recognise that UCD should start with the users but we also recognise that in order for Personas to be accepted by the business we need to create something that is easily recognisable by our business.   We also understand that there exists a lot of knowledge about our users in our business already and we want to capitalize on this (but to test assumptions also).    Using data to make decisions is important.
We want to produce something quickly that is meaningful, based on research and is recognisable.

We settled on a process that starts by looking starting to look something like this:

diagram of persona
Persona Process

What should you include in a Persona Profile?

Roughly grouped into:

Context of Use: where, when users use product. Platforms and technology used

Product usage: what features are important to our users – preferences and habits (and to consider preferences in relation to all products)

Demographic and profile: Demographics, habits and behaviours

Story and User Picture : Personas should be likable, visual and fun.   And include narrative

Motivations and goals– end user goals and experience goals ** important if we want to design an experience that is engaging and meaningful for our users

Triggers and Barriers/Concerns

workshop image flipchart

How do we keep Personas alive?

We need to:

  • Keep them close – ‘sitting beside you’, refer to them when making decisions about product – in design discussions, meetings etc. Advertise them.
  • Have them around your office – on boards etc. so they are visual and people see them as they go by. ‘ A persona wall’ – creates interest
  • Produce them quickly and iterate often – update them as you go..

So, now we have an idea of how to go about building a Persona.. we will see how we get on..

Further Reading and Resources:

Cooper, A., Reimann, R., and Cronin, D. 2007.  About Face, The Essentials of Interaction Design. Indianapolis:  Wiley Publishing

Pruitt. J., Adlin.T., 2006. The Persona Lifecycle. Keeping People in Mind Throughout the Design Process: China Morgan Kaufmann publications

Susan Weinschenk – 4 Reasons Why Personas & Scenarios Result In Great Design

Keeping Personas alive in Yahoo from Jared Spool’s blog.


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