User personas are profiles of the typical people who actually use your product. They can be thought of as “stories” about your typical user. They include that person’s name, background and typical behaviours. User personas contribute to tech product development and design. They help you to understand how you will build product features and how they will be used.

User personas should not be confused with buyer personas, which help you determine the messaging for your product.

User personas in tech product development

During product development, user personas provide a view into users’ perspectives, and are key to delivering features that users find indispensable. For example, a user persona may require an in-depth “search for contacts” feature, while a buyer may only be concerned that the application holds contacts.

Multiple user personas

You may have a number of different user personas, depending on the types of people who interact with your product—some of whom may be the ones using the product, while others may configure the product for others to use. Understanding both of these user personas separately will ensure that your product works for each user’s unique needs.

User personas will also help your designers to produce characteristics with greater usability, and will help to provide more direction during the research and conceptualization stages.

Creating a user persona

Follow these steps to get started on creating a user persona:

1. Interview your customers and the people who comprise your market.

Focus on the people who actually use your product. Categorize the different users you encounter to create a “typical” user persona.

2. Put yourself in your user’s shoes, and in the user’s world, as much as possible.

This involves developing an understanding of their education, their role and their routines. By understanding their day-to-day activities, you will be able to paint a picture of their day and expected behaviours.

3. Name each user persona, and provide each one with a background.

By naming them and making each background fleshed out, you will develop a memorable persona for your entire organization. Their background could include their

  • Education (for example, high school vs. graduate school)
  • Family situation (for example, single vs. married with children)
  • Setting (for example, suburbia vs. downtown).

The intention is to paint a picture that allows your organization to envision each persona.

4. Develop a written document (see sample below) that outlines each user persona.

Write each persona like a narrative that outlines that persona’s preferences and background.

5. Share your user personas with all key members in your organization, especially the product engineers.

This will enable them to understand the profile of their typical user and guide them to make better design decisions.

Example: User persona for a mobile phone company

Name: Jonathan

Age: 32

Background: Jonathan is a young single professional. He works in software at a hip downtown firm. He graduated from the University of Waterloo in Computer Science. He has just purchased his first condo. Until recently, he lived with his four roommates in a shared house.

Jonathan doesn’t have a home phone; his mobile phone is his world. This allows him to make and get calls, receive emails and listen to music. If he doesn’t have his mobile with him, he feels lost.

When a new version of his mobile phone comes out, he immediately gets the hardware upgrade. He’s always showing his friends the new applications he can use with his phone.

Note: From this example, you can decide what kind of features Jonathan may like in his new mobile phone.

User personas versus buyer personas

User personas are different than buyer personas.

Users are the customers who use the product every day, although they may not be the ones who are making the decision to purchase the product.

Customers who make the buying decision are called buyers.

Keep in mind that for a consumer-oriented product, the buyer and user may be the same person, but they will have different priorities based on their user persona and their buyer persona.

For more information on this, read the article, Using buyer and user personas in your business.

References

Revella, Adele. (2010). Don’t Confuse Sales Support with Marketing: A Case Study.Retrieved July 14, 2010, from http://www.pragmaticmarketing.com/publications/magazine/3/4/0508ar

Thompson, Suzy. (2009). Putting personas under the microscope. The Cooper Journal. Retrieved July 14, 2010, from http://www.cooper.com/journal/2009/07/measuring_the_effectiveness_of.html#more