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How to create and use personas of target users

Shaili Shah
Published on December 8, 2021

Personas are composite profiles of your target users based on user research. They are tools that help you ask the right questions while designing your product. A persona helps you see your target user as an actual human being, not just a hypothetical situation, so it’s easier to imagine a real person using your software or product.

Created after user surveys and other forms of user research, personas will be useful at every stage of product development because they help teams focus on the expectations, needs, goals, and behaviors of your users every step of the way. Designers and developers can then create software with the appropriate interactions and functions. Personas also play a role in helping stakeholders and others involved understand the concept and direction of your software project.

To create personas, you’ll collect observations and information about real people who may theoretically use your product or tool and synthesize them into a single, thorough description of a hypothetical user for whom your product will provide a solution. You start with collecting user interviews, market research, and observations of others or your own experiences. This research is then mined for patterns and insights that are relevant to your software. Finally, you will write a description of each representative of a user group as if it were an actual person you were telling a story about; you’ll want to describe their motivations, needs, preferences, and more.

Prerequisites#

Before building user personas, you’ll want to have the following in place:

  • User interviews (at least five per role or type of user you are designing your product for)
  • Research about your target audience (user testing, polls, surveys, market research, metadata)

With these in hand, you are ready to begin.

Step 1 — Look for patterns in your user research#

First, gather your interview responses, notes, and observations. What do your users share in common? Are you developing a product for more than one type of user or role? If so, you’ll create a persona for each type of user.

In general, you want to look for information on how your target users complete tasks and what digital tools or products they typically use, what solutions they are looking for, and what they want and expect from your product. Ideally, your research will include both qualitative and quantitative data: some combination of interviews, direct observation, polls, user testing, and metadata. Collect these insights in one place to begin drafting your persona.

Step 2 — Create a layout for each persona#

Personas don’t have a standard format, so you can decide how you’d like to organize your data and the patterns you identified earlier. You may want to use or review templates found on sites like UXPressia.

Your personas should be detailed enough to understand the most relevant aspects of your target user’s life. Your persona sheet will at the minimum contain separate sections for the user’s goals, background, motivations or desires, and frustrations or pain points.

In general, all personas include:

  • User group name (often this is a role — a job title or identifier of some kind — like “college student”)
  • Hypothetical user name (not a real name)
  • Basic personal information
  • Their social and physical environment
  • Professional background and technology use
  • Their goals, motivations, and typical behaviors or habits
  • Pictures that represent them in some way
  • Any quotes from your user research that help you have a better sense of this person’s needs

The following is an example of what your finished persona may look like.

User persona layout as described above

This will give you a foundation on which you’ll build your personas.

Step 3 — Include basic demographic information#

You’ll begin populating your user personas with basic demographic information.

  • Approximate age
  • Location
  • Job title or professional experience
  • Education
  • Income
  • Marital or family status

Come up with a name for your user: it can be a general group name or a plausible name that’s non-specific to anyone in real life. It’s also useful to include any photos of this representative user if possible (stock photos, for example) as visual cues that help you imagine this as a real person.

Step 4 — Describe the representative user’s background and environment#

This is the place to include details about the user’s daily schedule or what their day at work is like, how they use technology, their preferences and habits in using the internet or smartphone, and more. You can also list any of their typical skills or expertise and know-how.

In one column or section, address how much work experience your user has and what their expertise and professional qualifications are. What kinds of work challenges do they encounter on a regular basis? Why might they be interested in your software? What kinds of products or services is the user already utilizing to address any issues or needs? What else helps them navigate these professional challenges?

In the second, you’ll focus on the user’s technical experience. What digital tools or services and devices do they use? What is the extent of their knowledge of technology? What are they most familiar with? Which websites or programs do they frequent or use? How much time do they spend with these products? And so on.

In a third column or section, describe the user’s typical environment, including any relevant social or physical factors. Do they work alone or with others? Where do they spend most of their time? Are there any limitations in their environment that are relevant (such as time constraints, limited space, internet access, quality of devices)?

Step 5 — Describe the user’s goals, motivations, and frustrations#

These sections of your persona are key because this information will help you understand how to target your product directly to their needs, concerns, and expectations.

Any details or preferences that your user interviewees expressed would be useful here. For instance, a user may have expressed a desire for a more intuitive way to navigate a screen. You can also include any observations about their behaviors and assumptions you made during the user interviews and by observing them during their day-to-day tasks or using similar technology.

Let's go through each section and questions to consider.

User's goals

  • What does your user need?
  • What are their expectations and typical behaviors (relevant to your project)?
  • What problems do they encounter regularly?
  • What kinds of solutions would help them better perform certain tasks?

Motivations and desires

  • What do they express they wish they had?
  • What do they need to be more efficient?
  • What kinds of programs or services already help them?
  • What kinds of tools, services, or websites do they enjoy using? (Anything comparable to your software project?)
  • How do they like to perform certain work tasks? What are their habits and preferred methods?

Pain points and frustrations

  • What’s an obstacle or challenge they face? At work, at home, in other situations?
  • What annoys them about the products or services they use (that are relevant to your software project)?
  • What do they feel is missing or lacking when they try to solve a problem?

Another way to paint a more accurate and specific picture of the types of challenges you want your software project to address: you can also include a description of a few scenarios or situations that the users might find themselves in where they need a software solution. This is another place to include notes on specific behaviors you noticed during interviews or observation periods.

Step 6 — You’re ready to start using your persona#

Distribute your personas to your team and other relevant colleagues so that you’re all on the same page and able to serve your target audience in the most specific, informed way possible. Your personas are utilized most effectively when they are used periodically during the full product development process as a way to check in and assess the direction of the project. It’s good to keep updating them as you design and reiterate and discover new insights about your users and their needs.

Wrap up#

A persona is a great way to synthesize your user research in a way that can guide the entire software product development process. It ensures you are designing specifically for target users and creating solutions for real people instead of vague hypothetical situations. It is an efficient way of presenting quantitative and qualitative data into a cohesive picture that everyone involved can understand.