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.
Xtensio offers a user persona template to try for yourself.
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.
4 Best User Persona Examples
Developing an effective user persona requires thorough market and user research that provides valuable insights into who your target users are and what they want. Not knowing who your users are and what fuels their buying decisions will lead to inaccurate user personas. Relying on such personas during product development and marketing can compromise achieving business goals.
To help you create effective user personas, here are examples of what a user persona could look like in different B2B and B2C SaaS businesses.
Example 1: Logiwa (B2B warehouse management software)
Persona: Justin, small business owner
Occupation: Owner of a small ecommerce business
Demographic: 34-year-old Caucasian male living in California. Married with children and business generates about $60,000 yearly.
Preferred channels: Facebook and email.
Jus’s three-year-old ecommerce business sells and delivers formal, casual, and athletic shoes to customers all over the U.S. He doesn’t have a brick-and-mortar outlet and stores most of his inventory in a storage unit. He hopes to eventually have a physical store where he can display his inventory and attract foot traffic.
What challenges Justin?
Justin’s primary challenge is shipping orders. He has to wait until the end of each day to collate orders and retrieve inventory from his storage unit. He then ships orders the next day. Justin is looking for a solution that lets him process and ship orders faster, easier, and cheaper so he can compete with other online shoe stores.
What Justin needs
Our warehouse management software can help Justin automate order processing and shipping. For example, Justin can store his inventory with a third-party logistics company. Our software can monitor received orders on Jus’s website, find the cheapest and fastest carrier, and automate processing and shipping orders.
We will also provide Jus with shipping updates so he can monitor each order. The solution will help Jus work less, deliver faster, and scale operations to serve more customers.
Example 2: Sage50 (B2B accounting software)
Persona: Jen, senior accountant
Occupation: Senior accountant in a new construction company.
Demographic: 39-year-old African American woman living in Utah. Single with no children, college graduate, and yearly earnings of $50,000 to $55,000.
Preferred channels: LinkedIn and email.
Jen recently relocated to Utah to resume work at a growing construction company. She has three years of prior work experience as an accountant in companies in other sectors.
What challenges Jen?
Before her arrival, the construction company handled its accounting manually with tons of paperwork. However, the company is quickly growing, making performing accounting tasks manually no longer feasible. Jen needs a user-friendly accounting solution to digitize past accounting records, automate accounting processes, and simplify her work.
What Jen needs
Our accounting software can automate invoicing, purchase orders, payments, and account reconciliation. It simplifies accounting and minimizes the likelihood of costly accounting errors.
The user-friendly interface ensures Jen won't have trouble onboarding and achieving goals with our product. Lastly, Sage 50 can integrate with other systems to help automate and monitor various accounting tasks from one system.
Example 3: Uber (B2C ride-hailing application)
Persona: Cliff, singer
Occupation: Backup singer, stage performer, and songwriter
Demographic: 23-year-old Asian-American man living in Arizona. Single with no children, high school graduate, and yearly earnings of $25,000 to $30,000.
Preferred channels: Instagram, Pinterest, TikTok, and TV.
Cliff has earned a living with his vocal talents since graduating high school. However, he’s yet to hit it big. He can’t afford a car, and his credit score stops him from renting one.
What challenges Cliff?
Cliff travels to different cities for gigs. He’s usually unfamiliar with the new settings and needs a cost-effective and reliable way to get to gigs in any city he’s visiting.
What Cliff needs
Our Uber ride-hailing app works in all 50 states within the U.S. and with all mobile devices. Cliff can hail a cab from anywhere in any city with his phone and have it take him anywhere he wants. He can also save more on rides with our UberX Share offering, which lets customers share rides and fares with passengers heading to the same area.
Example 4: Duolingo (B2C language learning application)
Persona: Kari, college student
Occupation: Masters student
Demographic: 19-year-old Japanese woman living in Massachusetts. Unmarried, college graduate, and yearly earnings of about $40,000.
Preferred channels: SMS, Instagram, Pinterest, and SnapChat.
Kari relocated from Japan to the U.S. to get her biomedical engineering master’s at Boston University. She lives on the college campus and models and creates content to support herself.
What challenges Kari?
Kari faces a language barrier because English isn’t her first language. While she can hold basic conversations, she sometimes struggles to understand her classes, which is affecting her academics negatively. The language barrier is also affecting her ability to socialize.
What Kari needs
Kari can use our Duolingo app to improve her mastery of English. Our language learning platform is available as a mobile app, and it’s free to use, eliminating the need for costly language classes. Practicing with it for at least 20 minutes daily can help Kari improve her English skills within a few months.
8 Tips to Create Effective User Personas
User personas will only deliver your desired results if you build and use them correctly. Here are our best tips for creating effective user personas.
1. Prioritize goals and pain points
Knowing your customers’ goals and pain points is crucial because your product must align with the identified goals and pain points. A product that can’t help target users achieve their goals with less effort and resolve their pain points (problems) is valueless.
So, when creating user personas, highlight user goals and pain points to simplify verifying if your product can satisfy customer needs. If your current product design can’t satisfy a user persona’s goals and pain points, you could be targeting the wrong customers, or your product isn’t market-ready.
2. Make user personas visually appealing
Your user personas don’t have to be works of art but they should be eye-catching and easy to comprehend. You can easily achieve this with the right color scheme, font, and format. You can also elevate a user persona by using the persona’s picture so your team can differentiate between personas at a glance.
Ideally, the image should accurately depict the user’s age, sex, and lifestyle. For example, using an Asian lady’s image for a Caucasian male’s user persona can create confusion. Also, avoid using images of individuals who work within your company as this may cause bias. The more visually appealing a user persona is, the easier it will be to digest and use.
3. Start small
You don’t need elaborate user personas. Keep them straight to the point by not overdoing text. For example, write short sentences or use bullet points to list out user needs and challenges. Simple user personas will ensure your team isn’t distracted by irrelevant or tiresome details during product development.
However, while keeping things simple, do not avoid the essential details – demographics, challenges, and goals. You can find several eye-catching and in-depth persona templates you can fill out to create your user personas.
If you want to make your user personas more comprehensive and insightful, include psychographics, such as user behaviors, attitudes, opinions, and motivations. Such insights can help refine and differentiate personas.
4. Stick with a unified design
Don’t have multiple user personas with different designs. Use the same color schemes, fonts, and format for all personas so they are easier to compare. It will also prevent confusion and aid in recalling the key facts in each persona.
5. Use real world data
As tempting as it is, don’t make up personas. Instead, base them on real people with data from market research. Made-up user personas will contain your biases, which won’t help you. You need personas with real-world details that can guide your product development to success.
Get the relevant information you need to build proper user personas by asking members of your target market essential questions. These questions include age, gender, goals, pain points, purchase motivators, and more.
6. Keep an open mind
Don’t ignore or dump answers from user research simply because they differ from your assumptions or internal company narrative. Remember that you are not the customer, so what you think or assume may not be right. Instead, listen to what your research tells you about your users and create your personas accordingly.
7. Know that demographic isn’t persona
Demographic information includes user age, gender, location, ethnicity, and education level. These details are crucial for building a user persona, but they don’t provide a complete picture. A complete user persona will help you understand your ideal customer and market’s motivations, fears, and concerns. So, instead of stopping at demographics, beef up your user personas by adding the buying motivations and behaviors that spur your target users.
8. Update personas regularly
Since your customers are constantly evolving, your user personas should evolve alongside them. This requires performing user research at regular intervals to identify changes in your customer base and updating your personas to match the changes. Skipping user persona updates is a costly misstep because it could lead to developing a product your target market no longer needs or wants.
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.