Making User Data Friendly: Building Personas

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So, let’s say that as a user experience designer you’ve done your user research in an orderly manner like the "scientist" that you are, and now you have the results. What next?

You should present these results in a simplified manner that everyone can understand and relate to. Essentially, you should present the information learned from observing and testing your users into personas, or fictional characters that describe trends in your results.

It’s useful to have at least three different personas that describe types of users. It's not strange to have 10, but you should have a minimum of 3, in order to fairly represent the findings from your user research.

To create these personas, you will add:

Photos: It’s better to find real photos than use stock photos; this needs to be as real as possible.

Name: Each person will have a name. It's best to use familiar names that people can relate to.

Age:  Who are you designing the site or app for? Different age groups tend to exhibit different behavior, therefore personas might need to represent different age groups.

Location: You might think that this is irrelevant, but it’s not. Users in Saudi Arabia differ from those in Lebanon who differ from users in Egypt, since cultural and social elements influence online behavior.

Occupation: A person who relies on a computer for his occupation has different patterns from someone who barely uses one.

Biography: Here's where the work kicks in. As mentioned before, the personas should be as authentic as possible, in order to reflect the data that you spend weeks digging out. The whole purpose of creating personas is not to have "dry" information, so don't just list bullet points your data. A good technique is to write the bios as though you are telling a story about someone you know, such as a friend, a colleague, or someone you just met. You can put your story-telling skills to work here without changing the facts you got from the research.

Online Activities: What do they do? Socializing? Researching? Killing time?

Technology comfort level: What phone do they use? Computer? How savvy are they?

Personas can be very elaborate, but you can also create one quickly and get going using this basic information. Remember, essentially you are trying to make the data “human” and less dry.

You will come across people who don’t believe in personas, who claim that they kill creativity and limit innovation. Others will refuse to work without them, as they represent the data in a simple, human way. Whether you choose to use them is really a matter of personal preference; I for one like building personas simply because they makes the data much less dry.

In user experience design, we often reach a point at which developers, designers, or stakeholders talk about the personas as if they are real people, referring to them by their names. If you do decide to build personas, it will be a great exercise for you or your team to stay focused and present the extracted data in way that’s actually fun.

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