A short guide to personas

8 min read Max Koh

The word “persona” has many meanings. Sometimes the term refers to a part that an actor plays, other times it can mean a famous person, or even a character in a fictional play or book. But in the field of UX, persona has its own special meaning.

Before you get started with creating personas of your own, learn what they are and the process to create one. We’ll even let you in on a great, little tip — how to use Chalkmark to refine and validate your personas.

What is a persona?

In the UX field, a persona is created using research and observations of your users, which is analyzed and then depicted in the form of a person’s profile. This individual is completely fictional, but is created based on the research you’ve conducted into your own users. It’s a form of segmentation, which Angus Jenkinson noted in his article “Beyond Segmentation” is a “better intellectual and practical tool for dealing with the interaction between the concept of the ‘individual’ and the concept of ‘group’”.

Typical user personas include very specific information in order to paint an in-depth and memorable picture for the people using them (e.g., designers, marketers etc).

The user personas you create don’t just represent a single individual either; they’ll actually represent a whole group. This allows you to condense your users into just a few segments, while giving you a much smaller set of groups to target.

There are many benefits of using personas. Here are just a few:

  • You can understand your clients better by seeing their pain points, what they want, and what they need
  • You can narrow your focus to a small number of groups that matter, rather than trying to design for everybody
  • They’re useful for other teams too, from product management to design and marketing
  • They can help you clarify your business or brand
  • They can help you create a language for your brand
  • You can market your products in a better, more targeted way

How do I create a persona?

There’s no right or wrong way to create a persona; the way you make them can depend on many things, such as your own internal resources, and the type of persona you want.

The average persona that you’ve probably seen before in textbooks, online or in templates isn’t always the best kind to use (picture the common and overused types like ‘Busy Barry’). In fact, the way user personas are constructed is a highly debated topic in the UX industry.

Creating good user personas

Good user personas are meaningful descriptions — not just a list of demographics and a fake name that allows researchers to simply make assumptions.

Indi Young, an independent consultant and founder of Adaptive Path, is an advocate of creating personas that aren’t just a list of demographics. In an article she penned on medium.com, Indi states: “To actually bring a description to life, to actually develop empathy, you need the deeper, underlying reasoning behind the preferences and statements-of-fact. You need the reasoning, reactions, and guiding principles.”

One issue that can stem from traditional types of personas is they can be based on stereotypes, or even reinforce them. Things like gender, age, ethnicity, culture, and location can all play a part in doing this.

In a study by Phil Turner and Susan Turner titled “Is stereotyping inevitable when designing with personas?” the authors noted: “Stereotyped user representations appear to constrain both design and use in many aspects of everyday life, and those who advocate universal design recognise that stereotyping is an obstacle to achieving design for all.”

So it makes sense to scrap the stereotypes and, in many instances, irrelevant demographic data. Instead, include information that accurately describes the persona’s struggles, goals, thoughts and feelings — all bits of meaningful data.

Creating user personas involves a lot of research and analyzing. Here are a few tips to get you started:

1) Do your research

When you’re creating personas for UX, it’s absolutely crucial you start with research; after all, you can’t just pull this information out of thin air by making assumptions! Ensure you use a mixture of both qualitative and quantitative research here in order to cast your net wide and get results that are really valuable. A great research method that falls into the realms of both qualitative and quantitative is user interviews.

When you conduct your interviews, drill down into the types of behaviors, attitudes and goals your users have. It’s also important to mention that you can’t just examine what your users are saying to you — you need to tap into what they’re thinking and how they behave too.

2) Analyze and organize your data into segments

Once you’ve conducted your research, it’s time to analyze it. Look for trends in your results — can you see any similarities among your participants? Can you begin to group some of your participants together based on shared goals, attitudes and behaviors?

After you have sorted your participants into groups, you can create your segments. These segments will become your draft personas. Try to limit the number of personas you create. Having too many can defeat the purpose of creating them in the first place.

Don’t forget the little things! Give your personas a memorable title or name and maybe even assign an image or photo — it all helps to create a “real” person that your team can focus on and remember.

3) Review and test

After you’ve finalized your personas, it’s time to review them. Take another look at the responses you received from your initial user interviews and see if they match the personas you created. It’s also important you spend some time reviewing your finalized personas to see if any of them are too similar or overlap with one another. If they do, you might want to jump back a step and segment your data again.

This is also a great time to test your personas. Conduct another set of user interviews and research to validate your personas.

User persona templates and examples

Creating your personas using data from your user interviews can be a fun task — but make sure you don’t go too crazy. Your personas need to be relevant, not overly complex and a true representation of your users.

A great way to ensure your personas don’t get too out of hand is to use a template. There are many of these available online in a number of different formats and of varying quality.

This example from UX Lady contains a number of helpful bits of information you should include, such as user experience goals, tech expertise and the types of devices used. The accompany article also provides a fair bit of guidance on how to fill in your templates too. While this template is good, skip the demographics portion and read Indi Young’s article and books for better quality persona creation.

Using Chalkmark to refine personas

Now it’s time to let you in on a little tip. Did you know Chalkmark can be used to refine and validate your personas?

One of the trickiest parts of creating personas is actually figuring out which ones are a true representation of your users — so this usually means lots of testing and refining to ensure you’re on the right track. Fortunately, Chalkmark makes the refinement and validation part pretty easy.

First, you need to have your personas finalized or at least drafted. Take your results from your persona software or template you filled in. Create a survey for each segment so that you can see if your participants’ perceptions of themselves matches each of your personas.

Second, create your test. This is a pretty simple demo we made when we were testing our own personas a few years ago at Optimal Workshop. Keep in mind this was a while ago and not a true representation of our current personas — they’ve definitely changed over time! During this step, it’s also quite helpful to include some post-test questions to drill down into your participants’ profiles.

After that, send these tests out to your identified segments (e.g., if you had a retail clothing store, some of your segments might be women of a certain age, and men of a certain age. Each segment would receive its own test). Our test involved three segments: “the aware”, “the informed”, and “the experienced” — again, this has changed over time and you’ll find your personas will change too.

Finally, analyze the results. If you created separate tests for each segment, you will now have filtered data for each segment. This is the real meaty information you use to validate each persona. For example, our three persona tests all contained the questions: “What’s your experience with user research?” And “How much of your job description relates directly to user experience work?”

Persona2 results
Some of the questionnaire results for Persona #2

Above, you’ll see the results for Persona #2. This tells us that 34% of respondents identified that their job involves a lot of UX work (75-100%, in fact). In addition, 31% of this segment considered themselves “Confident” with remote user research, while a further 9% and 6% of this segment said they were “Experienced” and “Expert”.

Persona #2’s results for Task 1
Persona #2’s results for Task 1

These results all aligned with the persona we associated with that segment: “the informed”.

When you’re running your own tests, you’ll analyze the data in a very similar way. If the results from each of your segments’ Chalkmark tests don’t match up with the personas you created, it’s likely you need to adjust your personas. However, if each segment’s results happen to match up with your personas (like our example above), consider them validated!

For a bit more info on our very own Chalkmark persona test, check out this article.

Further reading