Like great actors getting into character to help make movies that viewers will love, product developers must think and feel like their target users to create products their customers love.
Let's take Tom Hanks, for example. He has acted in at least 83 movies, from Forrest Gump and Cast Away to The Green Mile and The Polar Express. He has created unforgettable characters, such as Woody from Toy Story and Captain John H. Miller from Saving Private Ryan.
How do great actors like Tom Hanks create believable characters to make great movies? The truth is he uses the same technique product developers use to create great products: an extensive amount of research. For actors, this is character research. For product developers, this is user research. And when developers document this research, it becomes a user persona.
What is a user persona?
User personas are fictional characters created to represent the goals and characteristics of a larger group of real people. A persona is often recorded in a document describing traits, such as attitudes, background information, behavior patterns, goals, skills, and the persona's environment.
Often used for product design and other product development areas, a user persona is a tool that enables you to empathize with and understand your customers, allowing you to engage with them in a more meaningful way.
Why a user persona is important to product development
User personas are important to product development because understanding your customer is invaluable to creating and improving an exceptional product and marketing it effectively. Personas accomplish this mission by answering the supreme question: Who are we designing this product for?
Through working to answer this question, and the related questions these answers bring up, developers begin to understand the customer's concerns, expectations, and motivations. Then, through understanding the customer, it's possible to produce solutions that will satisfy your user needs and goals.
How a user persona works for building better products
User personas help developers build better products in a number of ways, but primarily these personas allow product teams to feel empathy for the user. In turn, this empathy guides the team's important product decisions that those users will have to live with. These personas provide a place to document and share the teams' discoveries about the product's users.
For product development teams, a user persona helps build better products by:
Creating empathy: Empathy helps product developers gain their customers' perspectives and identify their pain points.
Providing decision-making direction: Understanding user behavior patterns and action allows product teams to shape product strategy and prioritize feature requests.
Expressing research discoveries: Whether through ideal customer research or discovering new data from the customer journey, user personas provide a central place to locate and share target audience findings.
Reflecting actual user patterns: Personas are derived from only real data—observed and researched.
Focusing on the current state: What matters most is how customers use the product presently, not how they'll use it in the future.
Providing specific context: Only the user's behaviors and goals regarding the product are recorded and shared.
When during the product development process to generate a user persona
Ideally, the time to generate a user persona is before mapping out the product strategy and during the customer analysis stage of product development. In this first stage, you'll learn about your customer by gathering data to guide the digital product management process. This data will help you create detailed user personas to understand your customer's needs and desires better.
How to create a helpful user persona for your product: step by step
Creating a helpful user persona takes effort, so you and your team will need to dig in to find and gather the data.
Here are the five steps to creating a user persona:
1. User research
During the user research step, gather every bit of data about the user. Remember, this data is crucial, so you must discover it by any means necessary, including sending emails, making phone and video calls, and running questionnaires and surveys.
In particular, you want data from the user about:
Actions: How the customer uses your product during the testing or live phase.
Brands: Which brands are the user's favorite and most used.
Channels: Where to reach the target audience, such as social media, email, or traditional media.
Character: Archetypes that characterize the user's goals, personality, and motivations; and tiers to indicate their engagement level with your product.
Demographics: Background, behavioral practices, and lifestyle.
Frustrations: What challenges keep your user from achieving their goals.
Goals: What the user achieves by using your product.
Motivations: The user's drives, such as achievement, fear, growth, and power.
Personality: Key characteristics determined by personality tests, such as Myers Briggs.
Traits: Additional motivations, priorities, and work ethics.
2. Segment, prioritize, and document personas
Chances are your product will have more than one type of user. In this case, segment your users and prioritize them by importance. In other words, identify who your primary users are and create tiers by importance with the most significant users in the primary segment.
For example, tiers can range from first-time users to late adopters depending on your product. But suppose you build an industry-specific product. In this case, your might label your tiers as professionals, prosumers, or enthusiasts. In another case, you can define tiers by the users' commitment level, identified as free, paid, or enterprise users.
Then, document your user research findings separate these personas by segment. Remember, to better understand your customers, assign as many characteristics and traits as possible.
Here are the basics of a user persona document as suggested by our friends at Xtensio:
Title: Choose a title that references the user group.
Image: Give your persona a face with a real photo if possible.
Quote: Quotes help capture the persona's attitude about your product.
Demographics: Gather data on the age, origin, marital status, and anything that helps understand the user.
Character: As a frame of reference, consider using the 12 character archetypes. They're a quick way to give your persona character.
Personality: Myers Briggs suggests there are 16 personality types. This framework is a quick, established way to assign a personality to your personas.
Traits: These are the persona's adjectives, like self-starter, outgoing, organized.
Goals: Define what your customer wants to achieve with your product.
Frustrations: List what is preventing your persona from achieving their goals.
Bio: Describe the user's journey.
Motivations: List what drives the persona, such as fear, growth, achievement, and power.
Brands: List the persona's favorite and most-used brands.
Preferred channels: List the persona's preferred method of communication, such as social media, email, or traditional ads—TV, radio, print, and billboards.
3. Share your findings with the team
Personas perform best when shared with your product and relevant stakeholders. For the product team, user personas will be their north star. Support teams, like marketing, will use persona details to better communicate with your customers. And for the company et al., personas will help them understand their customer better for other touchpoints, such as customer service and social media community interactions. Should your team have insight into the customer, their feedback is invaluable to updating the user persona.
Bonus user persona sections for UI/UX
User personas can do more than characters and traits; they can also provide user-interface (UI) and user experience (UX) data for the design process. This data, however, is gathered during the testing phase of a new product or for products already in the market. Moreover, this real-life data helps designers understand the persona through behavior and action to make better design decisions.
Determine behavioral patterns from the data. UI designers should review how the customer uses the product. Reviewing the customers' actions will help you identify behavioral patterns.
Identify interaction scenarios. Personas provide more value when you can tie them to scenarios. Scenarios are imagined situations that describe how the persona would interact with your product in a given context to achieve their goals.
DevSquad knows user personas
If created correctly, user personas are powerful tools. They give the product development process a guiding light to help product teams develop great products for their customers.
Need help creating user personas for your product? We've got product management teams for that. Let's talk.