Personas are used across the globe to help inform design teams who are looking to implement a user-centred approach, and as such they have become an essential tool in the UX professional’s arsenal.

From marketing sites, to ecommerce stores, to huge governmental organisations, personas give you a degree of insight that goes beyond what your analytics tools can provide. Personas enable you to validate or disprove design choices, provide inspiration, offer help when critiquing, and check and prioritise feature requests.

“We developed personas because we recognised the importance of understanding our customers, their behaviours and information needs,” explains Michelle Chronister, the User Experience Team Lead for USA.gov. “As we’re evolving USA.gov and our contact centre platforms, updated personas were vital.”

An example of a sample persona

Keep the process simple

Designed to improve the public’s interaction with the US government, USA.gov is the official portal for the federal government, and offers an index of more than 10,000 links to government information. The USA.gov team drafted its personas in about two weeks, keeping the process simple, and involving key stakeholders from the beginning of the process.

“To create personas for each type of customer, we picked some of the most common tasks people come to us to accomplish,” says Chronister. “We even had a little fun with data. After choosing an age in the most popular age range, we used the Social Security Administration’s baby name data to pick the most popular name for that year.”

Chronister and her team created new personas based on information such as site demographics, customer satisfaction surveys, analytics for other government properties, and general search trends on Google.

Because of time and resource constraints, the team used customer satisfaction survey comments as the main source of qualitative data. And while personas are composite representations, based on multiple people, in this instance USA.gov used survey quotes from real customers in its persona documents.

An example of one of the personas used on USA.gov - a woman named Jennifer who is looking for federal jobs
A sample of one of the USA.gov’s personas

As you’ll see from the USA.gov personas, they look a little different to our supplied template. But that’s fine. The content that we recommend you include in a persona template is aimed at the broadest audience, and it may not fit your needs exactly. So please keep that in mind when deciding what information to include.

An example of a sample persona

Do it yourself

In our beginner’s guide to personas we outlined the steps you should take when you decide to put UX at the heart of your process, and take the jump into user centred-design. In the post we summarised five key areas of persona creation, which were as follows:

  1. Identify users
  2. Set questions and conduct user research interviews
  3. Record observations
  4. Highlight trends
  5. Create individual personas

If you have followed steps 1-4, you will now have a body of information and insight about the real people who represent your users (if not, it’s worth reading our introduction). Now, we are going to concentrate on step five of the process: creating your first personas.

An example of a sample persona

What you need to include

Here, we have broken down the anatomy of a persona, and provided a little detail on each element, why it’s important, and how best to present it.

Name and bio

Let’s start with the most basic detail – a name. This may seem self-explanatory, but by including a name you instantly bring your persona to life, and enable people to empathise with them on a human level. (And you can use the Social Security Administration’s name data to pick an appropriate name for the age of your persona.) Next, you’ll want a bio. This should be an overview of your persona, bringing in the most relevant info from the other sections.

A quote that sums up the persona

You should try and capture the character of your persona in a single quote of no more than 20 words.

Persona group (i.e. manager)

As we outlined in our beginner’s guide, it’s important than when you are creating personas, and interviewing people, you compare like with like. This enables us to connect personas to individual groups, which could be work role, experience level etc.

Job title and responsibilities

Here you want to list information such as who your persona reports to, how senior they are, how many years of experience do they have, and how engaged in their current role are they.

Demographic info

If you have an existing site or app, this is a great time to dig into your analytics. There’s a huge amount of information that you can access by drilling down into your analytics app, such as location, age, gender, and a user’s current tech stack. If you don’t have an existing product, then one way that you might be able to find information about your competitors is to check if they have any advertising or investment documentation that includes their audience demographic (sometimes this information is hosted on a separate company site).

Goals and tasks they are trying to complete

Most persona goals should focus on what someone is looking to get out of an interaction with your site, service, or product. For example, someone’s goal when visiting Heart Internet is probably wanting more hosting stability, speed, flexibility-or all of the above. And the task they are looking to complete is finding the right package to suit their specific needs.

Pain points and motivations

Here you should list what gets in the way of your persona when trying to achieve their goals and tasks, and you can also list what is motivating them in trying to achieve them (it could be increasing revenue, getting fit, working less etc.).

A list of core behaviours

Lastly, you should list some of the core traits of your persona. Are they risk averse? Are they tech savvy? Are they ambitious? Do they need validation? When choosing these behaviours, you should keep them consistent across your set of personas, so you are then able to compare and contrast.

The last thing you will need to do is make sure you have an image to associate with your persona. There are a number of resources on the web to help you, but a good place to start is the Personas Flickr page, or the Free Persona Images website.

An example of a sample persona

Once you have all of your elements completed, it’s finally time to pull them all into your persona document. This can be as simple as a Word file, or you may want to opt for something with more visual punch. If it’s the latter, then a Google image search for ‘persona designs’ will provide you with plenty of creative inspiration, but if you’re looking for a template that you can edit to meet your own requirements, then you can download our free Heart Internet template (supplied as a PowerPoint doc, and available for both personal and commercial use).

Download your Persona Template!

Images from Free Persona Images.

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