5 ways to use personas in your projects
4 minutes read
I wonder, now that teenagers spend more time staring at their glowing mobile and computer screens, than seemingly anything else in the world, is adorning your bedroom with posters still the done thing? It certainly was when I was growing up. Heck we even had shops on the highstreet (those from the UK might remember Athena) that pretty much just sold posters. I seem to remember Cameron Diaz rather awkwardly sharing wallspace with Robert De Niro from Taxi Driver on my bedroom wall. Quite the odd Hollywood couple.
I often think of posters when I think of personas. This is probably because posters seem to be the natural vehicle for sharing personas. The two go together as naturally as Strawberries and Cream, or Gin and Tonic. Teams spend a great deal of time and effort creating personas, and then stick up some persona posters in the office (like the excellent examples from MailChimp above) with the expectation that suddenly the whole organization will start talking about ‘the users’. I’m not saying that doing this isn’t a great idea, it usually is, but there’s so much more that you can do with your personas than just creating some nice posters to help brighten up the office. So with this in mind, here are 5 additional ways that you put your personas to work in your projects.
1. As a starting point for usage scenarios
I’ve written before about the importance of thinking about real world usage scenarios when you design a product or service (see The complete guide to scenarios). When you’re thinking about how a product has been used, or might be used, personas are a great starting point for your scenarios. For example, how will our persona ‘Ben’ use the product? How, when, where and why will Ben be using the product? Rather than picking scenarios out of thin air, personas provide a great starting point for your usage scenarios.
2. As extra context for agile user stories
If you’ve ever worked in an agile team then I’m sure that you’ll be familiar with the now ubiquitous user story format:
As a <type of user> I want to <some goal> so that <some reason>
An example user story might be something like:
“As an editor I want to edit a page so that I can add new content”
User stories are great because they help teams and stakeholders to think of features from a user perspective. However, user stories in this form are also very short on context. What sort of user is an editor? What sort content would an editor be adding? When would our mysterious editor be editing a page?
Personas are a great way to add some extra context to user stories. By adding references to personas within your user stories, stakeholders and teams can straight away get a much better idea of the context. You might use the following format:
As a <type of user> like <persona> I want to <some goal> so that <some reason>
An example user story might therefore be something like:
“As an editor like Edith I want to edit a page so that I can add new content”
Why liken the type of user to a persona, rather than simply replace them with a persona? Well because using a specific persona (i.e. As Edith I want to…) is too specific. Not only would you have to have personas for every type of user, but it is potentially misleading. After all, you’re not designing just for Edith, you’re designing with users like Edith in mind.
3. As characters for experience maps and storyboards
Experience maps (also known as user journey maps) show a user’s end to end journey and importantly their experience for a given goal. For example, an experience map for going on a holiday might cover everything from researching holidays, to actually going on the holiday and then writing a holiday review. Storyboards on the other hand graphically show a scenario in a comic book fashion. Both are a great way to show how a product or service is currently used, or might be used in the future. Both at their core are really just stories and of course we know that all good stories need good characters. Personas make for obvious characters for experience maps and storyboards. They provide a great starting point for thinking about the sorts of journeys and experiences to map out and the sort of stories to illustrate.
4. As a focal point for ideation sessions
Get a bunch of people in a room. Ask them to come up with ideas to tackle a particular design challenge and you’ll generally get lots and lots of ideas. Some will be good, some will be bad, most will be somewhere in-between. However, without a focal point this sort of an ideation session can feel a bit like shooting fish in a barrel. Sure you’re going to hit a fish every now and then, but you’re going to waste an awful lot of bullets doing so.
To get the most out of ideation sessions you want to provide some focus to help channel people’s thinking. Personas are a great way to do just that. If you have a design challenge that you want tackled you can ask everyone to focus on your personas. For example, what would our persona Sarah want to be able to do? What features would be important to her? What would Sarah really love? Personas can not only provide a focal point for ideation sessions but also help to ensure that everyone considers a problem from the user’s perspective.
5. As characters for scenario based usability reviews
Scenario based usability reviews provide a structured way to examine the usability of an existing design, or design idea, by evaluating it against a potential usage scenario. For example, would a user be able to find and buy the sort of camera he or she might be looking for given the current design? Scenario based usability reviews are a great way to critique a design from a usability perspective. They also help you to think about how a design might perform in the real world.
As the name suggests scenario based reviews require scenarios to walkthrough. You’ve already seen that personas can provide potential starting points and characters for usage scenarios and they are also an important ingredient for scenario based usability reviews. For more about usability reviews, including how to carry them out take a look at my guide to carrying out usability reviews.