What is a user persona?

A user persona is a representation of your target users or customers. Personas are not created out of thin air but are based on research and relevant data.

It is a semi-fictional character who is a summary of your customer or a subset of your customers with similar demographic, goals, behaviour, interest, and motivation. It won’t be an entirely accurate portrayal of them, but somewhat close enough to build products for.

You can have multiple user personas for a product. For example, if you’re designing a fitness app for women, your user personas could be a stay-at-home mom, a busy executive and a student.

Using user personas help you:

  • Build better products that serve a purpose or solve a problem for your customers.
  • Create a product that considers different types of users.
  • Prioritise what’s critical and what’s not.
  • Align assumptions to work together efficiently.

User personas are sometimes called customer personas. However, they are different than a proto persona.

What is the difference between user and proto persona?

User vs Proto

In the UX world, a proto persona is a lighter version of the user persona.

A proto persona can be created ad-hoc and doesn’t require extensive research and data to back it up. It is less detailed than a user persona and based on your gut instinct, common knowledge, and assumptions of you and your stakeholders.

Using a proto persona helps immensely in:

  • An agile environment when you need to move quickly to test your assumptions and ideas.
  • Designing a new product without much data.
  • Extending your product to appeal to a new type of users.

As you do more user testing, you will discover more and more about your proto personas, until they eventually become a user persona.

How to create user personas?

Your user personas can be as simple or as detailed as you want it to be. A user persona can have:

  • Demographic (name, age, location, etc.)
  • Psychographic (interest, lifestyle, values, behaviour, goals, pain points)
  • Scenarios and how they would react to it (Optional)

1. Research, research, research

This is the most important step in creating a user persona. Without reliable and comprehensive research, your user persona is purely a work of fiction.

But first, you need to plan for what you want to find out about your users. This goes back to your business goals, existing data, and your product. There’s no point spending a lot of time looking for an answer that doesn’t make a difference to the design of your product. You want answers to the right questions that will improve your product.

At the very least, these are the questions you should answer:

  • Who are your customers?
  • What’s their demographic profile?
  • What do they want?
  • What are the issues they face in getting what they want?
  • What are the triggers or motivating factors for them to look for your product?

You can go deeper and study their lifestyle, personality, values, and skill level when using your product. Here are a few handy resources:

  • Existing customer data
    (You may uncover buying patterns, triggers, and other commonalities among your customers.)
  • User interviews and tests
  • Focus groups and case studies
  • Surveys and feedback
  • Guerrilla interviews
  • Market research and trends

2. Segment your data

By now, you will start to detect patterns and similarities in your data. You might hear the same issue or goal mentioned by many of your users in their interviews. You may be aware of a competitor name that keeps getting mentioned in surveys and feedback forms. And you’ll soon see a theme emerging from all the research you’ve done. In short, you can see the silhouettes of your personas now.

The patterns may be the opposite of your initial assumptions or a confirmation of your instinct all along. As an example, while interviewing potential users for your women’s fitness app, you discover that:

  • More female students are using apps to do their workouts instead of mothers and working women, who can afford gym memberships.
  • (Goal) Majority of the students interviewed said their main goal of exercising is to lead a healthy lifestyle.
  • (Pain Point) But they can’t afford personal trainers and gym memberships on their student budget.
  • (Trigger) They generally get serious about exercising on certain milestones such as birthdays and the start of a new year.

In this case, your main user persona would be a female student. The secondary personas could be a stay-at-home mom and working woman, who are either too busy to go to the gym or can’t afford one.

3. Draft your personas

It’s time to bring your personas to life. You will assign them a photo, name, and other demographic data that reflects your research. Include their goals, pain points, and motivation. Finally, add other relevant data such as their personality, preferences, and lifestyle.

This is an example of a basic user persona using the instance above.


Handy Tips for Creating User Personas

1. Create scenarios for further exploration

If you want to delve further into a persona, you can create scenarios and think about how they would react to a situation. It’s highly useful when you’re exploring a new use case or trigger point for your product.

2. Use visuals

Sometimes, it’s easier to describe something visually instead of using text. For example, when describing someone’s personality as introvert or extrovert, using a sliding scale gives a much better picture, rather than writing, “Somewhat an introvert.”

3. Don’t bother with irrelevant data

The purpose of creating personas is to help you build better products. If you’re building a personal budget app for parents, don’t bother querying about their music or food preferences. But that information may help if you’re designing t-shirts for them, because it is a window into their personalities.

4. Summarise your personas

A persona is more memorable with a summary such as a quote that embodies them. The quote could encapsulate their goals or pain points. For example, a user persona planning to buy a house would have a summary of, “I want to save money to buy my first home within 3 years.”

5. Never set your personas in stone

You are continually learning about your users, and so, your user personas are always evolving. It is not a set and forget exercise. Every time you learn something new or make a new discovery, you need to update your persona to reflect your customers closely.

Alvin Hermanto

Alvin Hermanto

Alvin Hermanto is a design leader who is passionate about practicality, quality, and human-centred design. As founder of award winning digital design agency, Relab, his clients include leading businesses in retail, education, real estate, and hospitality. He has personally grown Relab to be one of Australia’s leading design sprint agencies. You’ll find him speaking at design sprint, business, and educational events. His mission is simple: help others build and launch products faster without compromising quality or sacrificing user satisfaction. He also thrives on mentoring small businesses and startups, getting them to simplify processes, build better businesses and create productive teams.