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Posted by James Oliver on 20 April 2015

Why Persona development is so important to the success of a digital strategy

I spent much of last week writing about Peter, Anish, Alice and Sophia – so much so that I feel I know them pretty well, so well in fact that I should be seriously considering adding them to my Christmas card list.  

Except these new friends of mine aren’t real people, they don’t actually exist – they are all Personas, fictional people based on real evidence and distinct behaviour characteristics.  

The development of Personas is a key component in user experience projects, therefore it’s a fundamental part of my role as Director of User Experience at Status.  Personas play a crucial role in better understanding an audience yet some businesses embarking on digital marketing strategies do still seem to struggle to see their true value.

In this blog I’m going to take a closer look at why Persona development is so important to the success of a digital strategy.

What is a persona?

The concept of the Persona was developed by Angus Jenkinson and dates back to 1993, when it was initially based on imaginary fictional characters that represented customer segments. Initially it was called ‘CustomerPrints', and was aimed at brands that wanted to understand the type of consumer that shared affinity with their brand values.

Alan Cooper, a software developer created a similar concept called Personas – which was more closely linked to specific user types using software.  He later wrote a book called The Inmates are Running the Asylum (1999), which launched the concept to a wider business & technology community.

Grid of people's facesA Human Face 

They have since gained popularity in their ability to assist with product development. They give a human face to otherwise abstract data about customers. They can be easier to digest in presentations without being bogged down in huge lists of data. At the very beginning of a project Personas can help everyone to better understand their audience and best ways to communicate to them. Software Designers can reference what a real person might want when making later decisions, rather than rely on their own assumptions. They make communication easier to absorb beyond design teams, as engineers and developers can also make reference to them. For complex products, extra features and new ideas can be prioritised based on how well they would resonate with the intended persona type(s).

Recognising the value

Criticism often comes from clients or colleagues unfamiliar with the concept, who have not witnessed the benefit or struggle to see how to apply the concept. Some may frown on the ‘fictional’ aspect – although it is important to remember that they should be informed by factual patterns. Others may argue that these ‘stories’ distract people from engaging with real users, but they forget that they were created from data from real people. And finally the methodology itself might not gel with some organisations, who may see it as whimsical and without solid foundation.

Education

Educating clients to the value of Personas creation is vital as the results will pave the way to a far better understanding of the intended audience.  Personas will give you empathy with the audience and provide a framework in which to channel a large volume of interview data and patterns, this can then be distilled down to three to four Persona types. 

Creating a Persona template

There are no set rules for a Persona template, but my advice is to consider some basic categories such as:

  • first name 
  • profile photo 
  • background 
  • quote 
  • key goals 
  • tools 
  • attitude 
  • frustrations

Other headings can be added and tailored depending on your specific project needs – for example timescales or key characteristics

It may be helpful to take a look at an example Persona template which I've created that you can edit indesign or view as a pdf

Another Persona example is shown below which was created by Fake Crow.

fakecrow_persona_template2.jpeg

 After you have created your set of Personas, consider ways to apply them immediately to any problems at hand, or find solutions that will address their most common frustrations. You may find that to quickly try and target all the personas is wrong. It’s better to conserve energy and identify which persona(s) resonate best with your client’s services or products, then prioritise their needs first.

Further Reading

If you are interested in some further reading on the subject of Personas than please take a look at the links below:

http://www.usability.gov/how-to-and-tools/methods/personas.html

http://www.smashingmagazine.com/2014/08/06/a-closer-look-at-personas-part-1/

http://www.smashingmagazine.com/2014/08/13/a-closer-look-at-personas-part-2/

 

Images courtesy of Shutterstock unless otherwise stated 

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