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Using Personas in the Development and Design of a Domain

Are you thinking about starting to use personas when developing a domain or system? We explain exactly what a persona profile is and how to create an effective one.

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  • 10 Oct 2014
  • Sophie Hardbattle
Two people at a desk with their laptops open analysing notes on a notepad

Many professionals were first introduced to the idea of writing personas back in the late 90’s, after reading Alan Cooper’s ‘The Inmates are Running the Asylum’. The aim of the book, as a whole, is to show professionals how to create products that will thrill the end users.

In short; it is a representative of a typical user of a system, it is an example of the type of person who will interact with it.

They are profiles of fictional people, although they are based on real life users, usually documented on 1-2 pages.

Creating the persona should be part of the initial discovery phase of a project, along with user journeys and information architecture.

What are they Used For?

The overall goal is to create an end product that the customer will want, not what you think they want and to make it easier to understand who will be using the end product.

They also help to focus on the users needs and end goals, rather than requirements and deliverables- don’t get me wrong, they are important too, but there’s no point having a function on the webpage that realistically no customer will ever use.

What Makes a Good Persona?

A good persona is a narrative that describes a person’s typical day and experiences, as well as skills, attitude, background, environment, goals, motivations, expectations, aspirations and behaviours… So it does a lot really!

They need to answer questions, such as :

  • What information is needed at which point of the user journey?

  • What other tasks is the user concentrating on at the time?

  • What interruptions would the user experience?

  • Why is he/she using the product?

  • Why do they use your product over a competitor’s?

  • What demographic data do you need?

Possibly the most important factor when making an effective document, is working with your client and using actual user information (from marketing information, previous research and customer segmentations). Although it is very important, you must be aware that their perception of who their audience are may not always be the reality!

An article from Usability Gov, 'Personas', gives these templates to help you decide how the layout should look:

Things to consider when creating a persona Things to consider when creating a persona

They also offer a short and simple example. Remember, when creating yours you may need a lot more (or a lot less) information.

A persona profile A persona profile

What Makes a Bad Persona?

Okay, I know I have gone on about the possible factors that you may include in the document, but you also need to make sure there isn’t too much information either. It is a hard mix, but hopefully when you work with your client to decide what’s important, it will all fall together nicely. The risk of having too much is, you’ll start making decisions on factors that just aren’t important, you end up concentrating on little details that, in the bigger picture, don’t effect the websites design or development.

Also, the details need to come from real life data, the persona is not a hypothetical customer invented by the marketing department. The people and pictures can be fictional, but the data needs to be factual. There’s no point creating a domain that isn’t made for someone who would actually use it.

Hopefully this guide will help you when creating persona profiles; they are a very important part of development and shouldn't be overlooked.

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