Written by Roisin McCormack
Head of Community and User Research
In January of this year, Soundwave COO, Craig Watson and myself took on the task of creating the company’s first user personas. With months of some serious user research behind us, it was the logical next step and we had already done a lot of the groundwork required.
“In user-centered design and marketing, personas are fictional characters created to represent the different user types that might use a site, brand, or product in a similar way.” (Source: William Lidwell; Kritina Holden; Jill Butler (1 January 2010), Universal Principles of Design, Rockport Publishers, p. 182, ISBN 978–1–61058–065–6)
We got some great takeaways from our experience which should apply to everyone; regardless of what your company does or who your customers are. We also saw the value personas can bring to a team first hand, as they marry the research and product teams to ensure everyone is on the same page. The aim of this post is to share some lessons-learned with you in the hope it will help you to avoid some common mistakes and help you create the best personas possible!
There are LOADS of resources, books, articles, tutorials etc. explaining what personas are and the basic steps needed to create them. Once you feel you have a good grip on this information and you’re ready to get started, that’s when you should go through this blog post, treat it as a last minute check-list if you will ☺ Just in case you’re still on the fence on whether personas are worth the effort, let’s flesh out the benefits they can bring to your company a little more…
The benefits of Personas
“The purpose of personas is to create reliable and realistic representations of your key audience segments for reference”. Source: usability.gov
The benefits of creating and implementing user personas into your company’s design process are very well known. For us, the main benefit is that they help to bridge the gap between the company and our users. This is something which is becoming ever-increasingly, more difficult to do as everything moves online.
If you have no customers, you have no company.
It can be surprisingly easy to forget this. As an app company, we never have any technical need to meet our users face to face and it is for this reason that keeping our customers at the forefront of our minds is a priority.
When created correctly, personas are an excellent tool to bridge the gap between your company and your users. They allow every member of the team to empathize with your different target users, they act as great points of reference and they prevent self-referential design. We’ve pulled together 6 tips to help you create great personas that will add serious value to your UX toolbox.
Back everything up
“Your personas are only as good as the research behind them” — Usability.gov
Collecting data and conducting LOTS of user research is what makes strong, solid foundations for user personas. When you find yourself naturally categorizing interview participants into different ‘types’ then it usually means you’ve done enough to confidently start building out your user personas.
Has your research become boring? Maybe even predictable?
If you’ve reached a point with your research where you know what your participant is going to say before you’ve even asked them the question then it’s time to start turning these predictable patterns and trends into usable resources for your team. Jumping the gun and throwing yourself into creating your personas without having enough ‘evidence’ is a big mistake to make. Do yourself a favour, be patient AND do the groundwork. It will pay off!
Assume nothing and stay objective
As mentioned already, personas prevent self-referential design: this is where you allow designs to be dictated by your own personal motivations and goals. The ironic thing is that sometimes the task of creating personas can be given to just one person, and horror of horrors, that person might be your companies biggest ‘self-referential’ culprit! It’s pretty ironic when you think about it and is definitely something to avoid.
Personas are different and unique to every company so taking shortcuts or making assumptions isn’t going to do you any favours either.
It’s fine to have one person leading the research but ideally it shouldn’t be a member of the product team. To ensure your personas are unbiased and as objective as possible, keep referring back to your research and data and get as many of the team involved as possible.
Quality over quantity
Knowing how many personas you should create was something we found quite tough to nail down. The Soundwave Community is made up of a diverse mix of great people all being brought together by a mutual love for music. As Community Manager for the past 2+ years, I’ve gotten to know all our different types of ‘personas’ very well and to keep referring to all of them all the time would be impossible, there’s just too many!
Through our research, the general consensus seemed to be that 3 was a good number of personas to start with. We conducted an audit on our existing userbase and identified 10 different personas! It’s essential to be aware of them all but not realistic to represent them all with individual personas. Narrowing it down to three can be tough and there’s no magic formula for doing this. For us, we used our data and insights to measure the following:
The size of each segment: What % did each individual persona represent out of our total user base?
Activity levels: Who engages with and contributes to our app the most?
Value: What segments are most likely to complete the success metrics we need them to in order to add as much value to the business as possible?
If you are finding it extremely difficult to narrow it down to 3 that’s okay! The number of personas you create does depend on your company and product. In my opinion, one is too restrictive and with 5 or more, things will just get messy. Start with 3 and, all going well, you can add on if needs be ☺
Keep them short and sweet!
A persona is supposed to be a concise, snapshot of a particular person who represents one of your 3 largest segments of your target customer base. It should be 2 pages max. and contain at least 1 image. Any member of your team should be able to look at this document for 1 minute and absorb all the main information. If they can’t understand who this person is and what motivates them, then you’ve done something wrong. Assuming that the information itself is correct, you’ve either included too much or not enough.
Getting the balance right here can be tough and if you’ve done a lot of research, you might struggle to make sacrifices. It’s really important to stick to the 2 page rule and only include the most essential information. Read through it again and again and question everything on whether it’s actionable or not!
(If you begin to feel like you’re profiling someone for a murder investigation then maybe rein it back a bit…)
Finishing touches make all the difference
Something I noticed when researching personas and looking through lots of other company examples was that while the info was top notch, the design and final display of the finished docs often left a lot to be desired. Assuming they are done properly, you will have put in a lot of hard work so it can be a real shame to fall at the last hurdle! Take the extra time to put the finishing touches on them and make them engaging and pleasing to the eye. Make sure to get them printed out and put them up around the office where you know they will be seen! Our 3 personas; Kate, Damo and Ed join us at lunch everyday where we have them all up on the wall!
Woohoo! We’re done! Oh wait…
Chances are if you’ve done things right, you’re going to be seriously happy once your personas are hanging proudly on the wall. While you should be very pleased with your achievement it’s really important to remember that just like real people, your personas are going to change too.
You should always be conducting research, always talking to your users and always questioning your personas. As technology and trends continue to evolve, so will your persona’s motivations and goals. Keep an open mind and take solace in the fact that you’ll find it much easier to do them the second time around!
I hope you’ve found this helpful and wish you luck if you’re thinking of embarking on a personas journey! For us here at Soundwave they have already proven themselves as a very useful tool in our armoury. The fact that they are on display in the office makes a big difference too; often sparking conversations and encouraging everyone to keep the user in mind. If you start to feel like you’re suffering from multiple-personality disorder, and your ‘other selves’ happen to be your companies personas then congrats! You’re doing great☺
Head of Community and User Research