Top 5 things to know about personas

A user/design persona is a great way to represent the users who you are designing for. Eeva Ilama does a great job summarizing the role of a persona in her article Creating Personas on UX Booth:

“A persona is depicted as a specific person but is not a real individual; rather, it is synthesized from observations of many people. Each persona represents a significant portion of people in the real world and enables the designer to focus on a manageable and memorable cast of characters, instead of focusing on thousands of individuals.”

Alan Cooper was the first person to use personas in order to help empathize with and internalize the mindset of the people he was designing software for. I had the privilege of attending a conference offered by his company called the Cooper Interaction Design Conference. I would highly recommend it to any of you who are interested in research, personas and user-centered design!
Here are the top 5 things I learned about personas from Cooper: 
1. Personas should be based on patterns in research. Each cluster that emerges is the foundation of a persona. Here are some of the things to look for when assessing your research:
  • Goals: Why your subject is engaged in their task
  • Mental models: What your subject believes about the system or product at hand
  • Behaviors: What your subject does to accomplish their goals
  • Attitudes: What your subject thinks about a system or product
  • Skill level: The capabilities that your subject has
  • Demographics: The statistical characteristics of your subjects
  • Pain points: Things that create frustration, cause too much work or get in the way of what the subject is trying to do
2. Typically a persona will include the following things:
  • Photo
  • Quote
  • Story
  • Goals
  • Behaviors
3. Design for the primary persona but accommodate the secondary.
  • A primary persona won’t be satisfied if we design for someone else.
  • A secondary persona is mostly satisfied with the primary persona’s interface but may have additional needs that should be accounted for.
4. Don’t get hung up on format. Personas can come in all shapes and sizes. It depends on the story you are trying to tell and the person or team who will be using the personas.
 5. If you don’t have time or money to do primary research, proto-personas can be created using secondary research and educated guesswork. Using a persona, even if it is not based on research, is still better than not using a persona.
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