How to Create Effective UX Personas

Every single one of us is a consumer in some way, shape or form. We approach a product or service with an innate focus on how the offering meets our own goals, needs, and motivations; this is an automatic reaction to anyone or anything that vies for our attention (and our hard earned money).

When creating something that you want someone else to use, this auto self-referencing is an aspect that needs to be transcended since you are not the target user, you may, in fact, be an edge case. The goal is to get to know the end user as much as possible, without our own projections getting in the way. Who are they? What’s their life like on a daily basis? What are their needs and, most importantly, behaviors? Why would they use your product or service?

Creating effective UX personas will help you maximize the value of finding answers to those questions. As discussed further below, While UX persona techniques can vary depending on the environmental and organizational factors that are unique to your brand, the following is a collection of tried and true methods for effectively capturing and concretizing the needs of your specific end users.

Research is King and Data is Your Friend

Consumer preferences and overall trends shift rapidly in the age of social media. All it takes is one Tweet to “viralize” a product for better or for worse. Yet, social media platforms also offer a substantial amount of data for UX design analysis. In terms of questionnaires and polls, many (if not all) of the platforms can be used to take a quick “pulse” regarding user experience with a particular product or service.

There is, however, a slight caveat: it will be difficult to garner user attention via social media if you haven’t already amassed followers, and there is no hard “follower number” that encourages engagement for data collection purposes.

On the more sophisticated end of the spectrum, social listening tools and consumer sentiment analysis can yield crucial, and unexpected insights. However these techniques are best suited to established and enterprise companies with significant brand awareness and research budgets.

Additionally, you should continue to use the traditional methods of user research including focus groups, observations, interviews, A/B tests, and usability tests. Although not all data is actionable, unforeseen patterns tend to emerge as we parse through data from different sources.

The goal here, other than funneling down into the next analytical process for UX persona design, is interactive collaboration (as much as feasible) with the end user. The more you can understand about the factors that influence an end-user’s behavior, the more likely it is that consumers will use the product or service and become a self-compelled promoter.

Combined with data culled from your customer relationship management system, you’ll be well on your way to mapping the who, what, why, and how of the user journey. If you’re a UX designer for a brand new product, then the above mentioned UX research approaches are your go-to methods for user data collection.

As sales and marketing build momentum through advertising channels, you’ll be able to accrue real-time data directly from the end user (but, this should be one of many research and data collection sources!).

Create Highly Specific UX Personas

We are firmly entrenched in a “Generation Me” Zeitgeist. None of the current generations are exempt from this. While the “what can you do for me” isn’t a new component of human psychology, it has been fueled — and made more evident by — all things digital.

With the continued refinement of machine learning and the push towards actual AI, there exists a continual feedback loop of individualizing products and services as predictive analytics pervades every industry.

In short, consumers want things to be specifically designed for them; they want to feel that businesses trying to sell them something understand them and don’t simply view the interaction as a way to get more money out of the transaction.

UX designers have an increasing variety of end-user data that can be used for persona construction. In turn, effective UX personas should be as specific as possible while also keeping an eye on overall market patterns. Per PwC the data collected should largely focus on end-user behaviors that are overlayed on to the usual demographic data, rather than slotting people into an overly simplistic demographic classification.

For example, instead of using an age range and general location such as “Ameer is between 30 and 40 years old, lives in New York City”, we now increase the precision, e.g., “Ameer is 32 years old, his past times are X, his buying habits over the past Y months has been Z, and he’s purchased a competitors product W, but his social media statuses specifically state he has problems A, B, and C with their product, etc.”

Other detailed info can include personal and professional goals, motivations, personality assessments such as Meyers-Briggs indicators (Introversion/Extroversion, Feeling/Thinking, etc.), technical knowledge and which technologies they use the most (or least), educational level, etc.

If you don’t already have a template constructed, creating one (or borrowing an ideal version from a Google search) is highly recommended as it will streamline your data collection and analysis activities.

Include User Stories

User stories aren’t just for Product Owners and Agile/Scrum teams; they are vital to deepening the connection between the user persona and the intended product or service.

Accordingly, the workflow from research, data collection, and user specificity funnel down to matching the user to one or more product design requirements. This can be as simple as “As an App User, I want to be able to auto-log my food to my fitness app by taking a picture of what I’m eating so I can quickly and easily track my macronutrients throughout the day.” Certainly, the descriptions can be expanded into full-fledged mini-stories or epics about the end user (if you have the time).

Incorporating the user story into the UX persona template will help reveal additional end-user insights as you take the static UX persona details and apply them to specific product requirements.

The Users Journey Map

In addition to the user stories, mapping the user’s journey increases understanding as to how each of your end-users will actually use the product or service. Ideally, the user’s journey map will contain the information from both the UX persona and user story along with the flow of touchpoints along the utilization pathway. Although this tool is frequently used in website design, it can easily be implemented for tangible goods as well.

The user’s journey map can include qualitative information, e.g., possible Thoughts, Emotions, and likely Frustration points (TEF) as they navigate through product usage from start to finish. Your user stories and UX persona narratives may shift as this process is completed, and that should be expected as understanding the end-user is an iterative activity.

One method for visualizing the user’s journey is storyboarding, which doesn’t need to be a full-blown artistic endeavor. Stick figures and rough sketches of each UX persona (or collection of personas if there are cross correlations between end-user behaviors and emotions at each touchpoint) will work for this process as well.

As long as you’re connecting the visual snapshot to both the targeted persona information and indicating the TEF for each interaction with the product or service, then there’s no need to put effort into creating extensive artwork. The main purpose is to get a complete story that starts with the persona and anticipates their TEF, along with responding behaviors, while they are trying to achieve whatever goal they believe the product will help them to accomplish.

Conclusion

At first glance, the workload for designing effective UX personas may appear to be tremendous. Granted, time constraints are a reality (especially in an era of minimum viable products and extreme programming). However, once you assimilate each of the research, data analysis, user persona, user story, and user journey map components into your product development life cycle (along with using a template), you’ll quickly be able to substantially reduce the time needed for comprehensive UX persona generation.