Personas have become the standard technique in the customer discovery phase of product development. From large organizations to startups, we’re all using them, but are we making the most of personas?
In the myriad of offline chats that we have with product owners, managers and developers, we are often asked whether personas are useful. And we get a sense that they’ve become just ‘another thing’ that has to exist within an organization instead of something that people find valuable.
Personas are a great tool to help shift the focus of decision making from what’s getting developed, to the user’s needs and goals. They are also extremely useful as a common reference point for the team, as they help create a shared understanding of the user and solution alignment.
How can we drive more value from personas?
Personas are often developed by the marketing department, so they are made around who the buyer is, not who the user is, and that can represent a big difference.
The risk when using the Marketing Persona is that these personas describe users that are effectively non-descript, and so you may not be able to make useful decisions based on them.
Before you start using them, ask yourself, ‘are these personas telling me what I really need to know about the people I’m designing my solution for?’ It’s okay if your answer is, ‘not really, I need more information’.
You need Personas that are built around what you’re trying to understand.
You may be thinking – well, I know some of our customers, I can create a persona based on what I know about them. This is a Proto-Persona and it’s also a valuable starting point. They are particularly valuable for surfacing a team’s assumptions about the user, so you should build these with your team and stakeholders if time and/or money are a constraint. You do need to keep in mind that a Proto-Persona, is based on what you know about the user. So they are more than likely full of assumptions that need to be validated and are no substitute for user research.
Marketing Personas or Proto-Personas give us some data points and assumptions, and that’s a good starting point. You’re not staring at a blank canvas and you should have some ideas about what you may want to do next.
Preparing to do it right…
If you want a persona that really gets to the core of your user’s needs, then base it on user research.
Now is the time to use the Design Personas. We need to get out of the building!
How to develop Design Personas
You’ll need to start with either observations or interviews (it really depends on what you‘re building and what you’re allowed to do).
Tip: For the interviews, we find that pairing is the most effective way of doing it, as one person is focused on asking the questions, the other can focus more on behaviors, as these can provide invaluable insights.
Keep the questions neutral and open. Remember that you don’t want to be right—you want to learn more. What are you looking for in the interview? The way we approach personas is to search for jobs, pains and gains.
We really like the concept of jobs-to-be-done that Clayton Christensen popularized. You can watch him explaining the concept in the video below.
These are risks, obstacles and things that the customer wants to avoid while trying to get a job done.
These are the things the customer hopes to achieve. As a rule of thumb, keep interviewing people until you have found 10–20 people who are experiencing the same problem. Then decide if it’s a problem you want to solve.
Now that you have this information, before thinking about personas, ask yourself… what am I trying to accomplish? If you’re really trying to understand your user, you know the advice: get out of the building and interact with real users!