Personas in a Nutshell
A persona is a fictional character that represents a subset of the market we want to address. A persona typically has a name, a picture, relevant characteristics such as age or income group, behavioural traits, common tasks, and a goal that describes the problem the persona wants to see solved or the benefit the character wants to achieve. This information is traditionally based on direct observation, interviews, and other qualitative market research.
Personas should help you develop empathy for your users and customers. They encourage you to embrace a user-centred approach: Putting the users first, and building a product that that truly benefits them. This avoids the fallacy of a solution-centric approach: worrying more about the product and its features and technologies than the reason people would want to buy and use it in the first place.
Alan Cooper pioneered personas in product development in the 1990ies. Today every product manager and product owner should be able to create and work with personas.
A Minimalist Persona Template
While personas are a powerful technique to capture knowledge about the users and customers of a product, it can be tricky to write effective personas: Some persona descriptions I have seen were too detailed and bloated; others lacked important information. That’s particularly true when agile and lean practices are applied, and good enough persona descriptions are appropriate, which are updated and refined as more knowledge about the users and customers becomes available.
Using personas for my own products, I have found that there are three pieces of information that are particularly valuable to creating effective personas: the persona’s picture and name, the persona’s details, and the persona’s goal. I therefore use the template below to write personas. Simply click in the picture to download the template as a PDF.
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.
Here is an example of how the template can be applied. It features one of the personas of a new book I 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 helps people empathise with the users. You can do this, for instance, by adding pictures, likes and dislikes to the characteristics.
Visualising the Personas
I prefer to capture personas on paper, so I can easily visualise them, for instance, by putting them on the Product Canvas, as the picture below illustrates. An A4 paper sheet usually works well.
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.