User Personas: Making it Tangible
The main goal of user research like contextual inquiry is to better understand current and prospective users. A well-conducted study or series of studies lays the groundwork for developing personas.
A persona is a fictional description of someone who represents a single user group. Fictional only in the sense that you assign a name and use a generic photo to protect participant confidentiality.
A well-crafted persona is real because it reflects the goals, behavior, attitudes, and likely pain points. As the term “persona” suggests, its purpose is to engage the product and design teams by making the user tangible. Instead of “How might our customers react to our new cell phone pricing plan?” the question becomes, “How likely is Frugal Frida to purchase this plan?” In short, personas help the team visualize the customer and her needs and behaviors.
Here’s how it works in the real world. Recently, after conducting a series of interviews, we examined the findings and initially identified three user groups. Upon further reflection and discussion, however, we realized that research had reveled a fourth group with highly specific concerns and behaviors that did not apply to the other group. Four groups mean four personas. The scrubbed example below shows one of the four personas we developed.
As shown in the bottom half of the persona, our interviews yielded four concrete scenarios. While research findings are not always this clean, when possible it’s wise to tease out at least preliminary scenarios as personas develop. Remember, a UX researcher’s goal is to learn how users behave or are likely to behave, often in the context of performing certain tasks.