User Personas

We talked about the foundation of UX – user personas – at our local tech and business center BendTech. The meetup took place on Tuesday, October 27, 2015 at 7:00 PM. This is a “book club” styled group, where a topic is set, people within the industry read up on it, and then we come prepared to discuss.

Main Take-Aways

Here are some of the take-aways we had from our discussions:

  • User personas are more of a stereotype than an exact representation of an individual customer or user.
  • When using or applying user personas, consider them as a thought experiment or a device that helps to pull the user into discussions about development, content, and marketing and make that user more like a real person.
  • While it is best to have a well formulated user persona that is created with data and user research, you can still benefit from sketching out a best guess of your representative user to then consider. Even small businesses and start-ups can benefit from this exercise.

Creating User Personas

As far as process goes, here is overview of what we discussed. We got much more detailed and discussed a few specific projects, but this is the gist of it.

Start with Internal Discussions

Being that I am most often coming into a project or business as a contracted UX analyst, I like to get a lay of the land for the business and its customers from those people who deal with them most often. In my software development days, we referred to them as SME’s or Subject Matter Experts. They might be the business owner, marketing, or people who interact with customers every day such as support. This will also give you an idea of the business plan and where that business wants to grow in the future so that you are not just documenting the past but formulating user personas for the future growth of the business.

Keep in mind that this is to develop a theory to be tested, plus not waste too much time a learning curve when experience and knowledge is at hand to be used. Throughout this process and at every step, you have to be open to the data telling something different than what you had assumed. This is to give you an idea of which direction to go in with your research, but you should not become too married to to what you create at this stage.

Go to the Data

There is a lot of information and discussion emphasizing data-driven user personas, and using good data takes you beyond hypothesizing in a meeting room. But where does that data come from, especially if you are small business without a marketing department?

Every business should have Google Analytics installed on their site and put up a Facebook page for their business. Become familiar with the basics and they will both offer you a wealth of information. One key feature to turn on in Google Analytics is demographics. This will give you the beginning of a demographic profile of your users. Look for patterns and then begin to group other information by those patters. For example, look to see if there are differences conversion rates per age group or gender. If you find that Women aged 25-34 higher converters, look for other loyalty factors, such as bounce rates or time on the site, then look to see if there are differences based on what devices they are using.

This is data crunching time, so pull it in from all the sources at your disposal. Services such as KissMetrics and AdRoll let get a more complete picture of your potential customer’s activities and interactions with you.

Go to Your Customer

It is hard to understand people’s motivations, preferences, or frustrations when you only look at analytics data. So then you want quantifiable ways to get closer to those people and what they are thinking. There are a number of tools to use depending on your organization and what you already have in place. Do you have customer surveys? What about customer data you may gather after purchase in your CRM or other tools? You can track user activity on a website with Crazy Egg or Clicktale.

This is where you take the demographic sketches that you developed with your data and begin filling in the details, and test those patterns again. Keep in mind which sources are giving you information about your current customers versus potential customers.

Time to TALK to Your Users

This is a step that small businesses often resist or feel like they don’t have the resources to take on. Again, there are many tools to gather feedback, but here you want to go to users and potential users with a set of questions to ask them to get a clearer picture. This can be done online, on the phone, or at events where you are out in public. Keep an eye on getting enough people in each of your potential user personas groups. Listen, take notes, test the theories you have already developed, and see what needs to be added or changed.


Here is a list of articles that we shared before and after the meetup:

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