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How to create user personas for your agile product team 

PostsDesign & UX
Georgina Guthrie

Georgina Guthrie

October 12, 2022

Imagine you’re about to recommend a great holiday destination. Of course, you talk about the weather, the food, and the accommodations. But how do you sell it?

Without knowing what your audience likes, it’s difficult to get this right. Maybe some people would go just for the opera, while others might want options for hiking or clubbing even to consider it. How much easier would this be if you had just one person to speak to… someone whose hobbies, likes, and desires you knew?

As a product designer, you face the same challenge. You must create a website or app to win over your audience. Close isn’t good enough. Close means you are second to your competitors who did get it just right.

Fill it with features they don’t want, and they won’t use it. Don’t add the things they need, and… same result: product failure. It doesn’t matter whether you have the best team or the biggest budget – the thing that gives you the edge over your competition is your ability to deliver what your audience needs. And this is exactly what user personas help you do.

What is a user persona?

A user persona is a semi-fictional representation of your ideal customer based on market research and real data about your existing users. When created well, they offer immense value and help you keep your finger on the pulse of your target market.

User personas should be:

  • Based on real data: Good user personas are based on insights from your target market. This might include surveys, interviews, and data analysis.
  • Semi-fictional: Although they should be based on real data, user personas are not real people. They are amalgamations of different users that share similar goals and characteristics.
  • Detailed: The more detailed your user persona, the better. The aim is to create a detailed picture of your ideal customer that you can refer back to again and again.
  • Actionable: User personas should be designed to help you make decisions about your product. They should guide your design process and inform your marketing strategy.

Why create user personas? 

User personas are a key part of agile product design for a few key reasons.

1. It’s good design.

Creating user personas is an essential part of the product design process. By understanding your target market at a deep level, you can create products they love and use time and time again. For sustained product engagement and long-term customer retention, your product must speak to their needs.

2. It boosts communication.

User personas also have the power to improve communication within your team. By creating a shared understanding of your target market, you can ensure everyone is on the same page – from the CEO to the junior designer. This aids decision-making because it’s easier for everyone to reach a consensus. 

3. It helps you make smarter choices.

Finally, user personas help you make better decisions – both big and small. Not sure whether to add a certain feature? Check with your persona. Need to prioritize your to-do list? Let your persona be your guide. 

A few more benefits to user personas (because why stop at 3?) 

  • Good design is user-centric. User personas help you keep your target market front and center when making decisions about your product. 
  • It helps you prioritize features. When you know who your persona is, it’s much easier to prioritize which features to build into your product as a priority when time is tight.
  • It improves the user experience: By understanding your persona’s needs, you can design a user experience tailored to them. This, in turn, reduces friction, increases satisfaction, and helps you retain more users.
  • It gives you confidence. When you have a clear understanding of your target market, you can design with confidence, knowing that you are meeting their needs. You should base every decision on data and knowledge rather than guesswork. 
  • It helps you develop empathy. Creating user personas is an excellent way to develop empathy for your target market because you learn who they are and what they want. When you put yourself in their shoes and try to understand their needs, it’s much easier to design products they will love.
  • It improves the customer journey (and your sales funnel). If you know who they are and what they want, you can design a product that efficiently answers those needs and presents fewer obstacles to them achieving their goals.
  • It helps you identify opportunities and market segments. Learning about your customers increases the chances of discovering previously unacknowledged needs (and opportunities).

What does a user persona include?

Typically, a user persona will include the following:

  • Their name – which might be normal, or it might be emblematic of their behavior; for example, ‘The Saver’ or ‘The Tech Nerd’
  • Their age, occupation, location, family situation, and any other relevant demographic information
  • A photo or illustration
  • Their goals and objectives
  • What motivates them
  • Their challenges
  • Their needs concerning your product
  • How they like to consume information
  • The types of products/services they use
  • And anything else relevant to your product.

A user persona example created in Cacoo

If you’re creating several products or one product with several target audiences, then it’s a good idea to create several distinct personas. 

These could be unique ‘people,’ or you might have several personas that fall under a specific group. For example, you might name a group ‘The Spender’ and have two or three personas within this group. Be detailed and draw distinctions when it’s helpful, but try not to have too many personas – think of it as distilling your core audience down to their simplest form. 

What are the different types of user persona in agile product design?

There are three different types of user personas, each one steered by how they’re created:

  1. The proto-persona method
  2. The statistical/quantitative or mixed method
  3. The qualitative method

Here’s what each of these approaches entails:

1. The proto-persona method

This is where you make an educated guess about your target market based on your current customer base. You use existing knowledge and educated guesses from yourself/your team rather than seeking new information.

These types of personas are created quickly and, as such, are a great way to get things rolling – especially in terms of capturing your team’s assumptions about the target market. The fact they’re not drawn from data means their accuracy will be limited – but they’re better than no persona at all.

2. The qualitative method

This is where you use interviews and focus groups to understand your target market. It’s a vital part of discovery research and a great way to get in-depth insights into their needs and motivations – but it can be expensive and time-consuming.

Nevertheless, if you have the time and resources, it’s worth everything you can throw at it. And if you can only speak to two or three people, it’s far better than not speaking to anyone.

3. The statistical/quantitative method

As the name suggests, this approach combines data with qualitative research to create a more well-rounded picture of your target market. You’ll start with a sample group, which you’ll define by conducting qualitative methods (observations, focus groups, interviews) to identify common themes that crop up. From there, you’ll know who you should speak to and what questions you should ask.

Typically, statistical methods involve large-scale sample groups from which you’ll collect lots of data. This might involve using surveys, user testing, Google Analytics, and other relevant data sources to understand your target market on a more granular level. You can then supplement this with qualitative research in the form of interviews or focus groups to get a deeper understanding of their needs, as well as use it to verify or refute your assumptions.

What’s the difference between a user persona and a target market?

Although they might seem similar, there are some key differences between user personas and target markets.

A target market is a group of people defined by specific demographics, such as age, gender, income, etc.

A persona is a specific person within that target market. This means that a persona includes all of the demographic information of a target market, plus additional information about their needs, motivations, and challenges.

In other words: all user personas are part of a target market, but not all members of a target market are user personas.

How to create user personas

The process of creating a user persona involves six essential steps:

  1. Choose your approach. As we’ve seen, there are three different ways to create a persona. Which one you choose will depend on the time, resources, and data you have available.
  1. Identify your target market. The next step is to identify who you’re trying to reach with your product. This might involve market research, surveys, interviews, workshops (for the proto method), digging into your data – or all of the above.
  1. Gather data. Once you’ve identified your target market, it’s time to gather data. This could include demographic information, psychographic information, and behavior patterns. Again, you’ll rely heavily on the methods mentioned above. The more, the better!
  1. Analyze your research. Analyze your collected data, and look for common themes and patterns. This will help you to identify any gaps in your knowledge and will give you a better understanding of who your persona is.
  1. Create a persona: With all of this data in hand, you can now create your persona. This is the fun part! Be sure to give your persona a name, photo, and personality. Feel free to be as creative as you like, so long as everything you do illuminates (rather than distracts) your message. 
  1. Share your persona: Once you’ve created your persona, put them to work! Refer back to them often when making decisions about your product. 

Top tip: Rather than struggling with the weird formatting on MS Word, use a dedicated user persona template. Customize with a few clicks, then share it with your team, stakeholders, and company reps. And if you’re using Cacoo, you can create and store it in the cloud and invite others to leave comments on the doc – an essential step if you collaborate with others working in different offices (or from home).

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