Building User Personas: Why? How?

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Most great products are born out of recognizing a common problem that has no solution — and providing that solution to a (hopefully paying) customer base. This, however, is really only half the battle of planning out your product or website. There are very few, if any, products out there that can be all things to all people.

The key to any truly successful build is understanding the specific person for whom you are creating the solution. It is one thing to build an application for recent college graduates glued to their mobile device, it is another to build an application for a retired grandfather who is just getting comfortable on a computer.

But those kinds of top-level demographics are not going far enough. You have to unlock the specifics of your assumed customer base. You have to ask yourself a variety of questions to capture their nuances, their oddities, and their humanity. By doing so, you begin to establish a face, a name and even a disposition for your user — all of which shape the distinct touches your solution needs to have.

Most importantly, creating a persona triggers empathy. We have to care about what our users care about in order to truly serve them.


So, how to begin? With simple foundational information: age, gender, occupation, education and their comfort level when it comes to technology.

Next, you want to think about the three most important things that person needs to do, and why. Are they interacting out of need or want? Are they distressed or happy? Keep it simple, but specific.

As you think through the various workflows, use their name as you chart out steps, “Carol enters her email address and password to sign in.” You also want to layer in some appropriate emotional color to the whole picture, such as “Carol is worried about losing her job” or “Carol is a big fan of Instagram and Pinterest.” You’re setting a general mood and understanding the ways your product can play off of that mood.

If you need even more realistic texture, some user experience experts recommend thinking of quotes your user would say, such as “I need to find a job with daycare.”

Finally, an image of your user brings all this “strata data” into a recognizable point of focus. Bounce any feature that comes out of ideation off of your user persona to see if it has value…and run your user persona through the whole product flow to find the omissions and redundancies.

By taking these humanizing preliminary steps, you are immediately making better decisions…and a better product.


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