I love using personas for my own products and in my client-facing work. But for quite some time, I was looking for a good template that allows me to effectively capture the relevant information. After experimenting with different approaches, I believe I have come up with a helpful format, which this blog post introduces.
I was recently helping a client with a new product to be developed for an existing market. When the team began sharing all their ideas about features and functionality, my head started to hurt. So I stood up, grabbed a pen, went to the flip chart, and asked: Who do you think are the users of the new product? And what are their main characteristics and their needs? In no time had we come up with preliminary personas: fictional users and customers.
The great thing about personas is that they invite us to view the product from the user’s perspective. This helps us design a product that truly benefits its users. It avoids getting stuck in longwinded discussions about features, features, and more features. It allows us to explore if a feature would actually benefit one of the personas. Think about all the products you have come across where you asked yourself why the product is so difficult to use. Chances are that the people responsible for creating it did not carefully walk in the user’s shoes. Take the struggle I had this morning with our dishwasher: One of the clips that attaches to the tray had come lose. Clipping it back in turned to be fiddly and difficult. The design must have been optimised for production, and not for the user.
Working with personas implies a user-centric approach: We have to put the user first, and build a product that wants to do a great job for the user. As a consequence, the product becomes a means to an end. It exists to serve its users.
There are three pieces of information I have found particularly important when working with personas: First, the persona’s picture and name; second, the relevant characteristics such as demographics, lifestyle, and job-related information: third, the need that the persona has or the problem that the product should solve. I therefore use the following structure to describe a persona:
The first two sections in the template above describe who the persona is. The last one is particularly important, as it makes us ask why the persona would want to purchase or use our product: The needs are often more important to develop a great product than the demographics.
Here is an example of how the template can be applied. It features a persona of a new book I have recently started to work on:
Notice that I have tried to make the persona description as relevant as possible. I have left out information that is not essential to understand who the character is and why the person would want to read the book. For instance, I decided not to include Peter’s marital status. At the same time, I have tried to be as specific as I can right now about the persona, so I can validate my assumptions. As I find out more about the target readers of the book, I will undoubtedly iterate over Peter’s description, and update it. While refining your persona, ensure that the character is believable and that its description allows you to develop empathy for it. You can do this, for instance, by adding pictures, likes and dislikes to the characteristics.
I prefer to capture personas on paper, so I can easily visualise them by pinning them on my Product Canvas, as the picture below illustrates. An A4 or A3 sized paper sheet usually does the job.
Another advantage of using paper-based personas is the limited space available. This helps us focus on the relevant information rather than writing everything down we believe to know about the user.
Personas are a great technique to capture information about users and customers. They help create a product that serves its user. Employing the persona template introduced in this post helps us capture the relevant information and focuses our effort. With preliminary personas in place, we can start to explore how the needs can be best addressed, create a first prototype, and test our assumptions. I will write more about using personas in an agile context in one of my next posts. So stay tuned ☺