What are personas?

Understanding your audience and identifying the users is essential for usability testing and the final product.

Personas are fictional, generalized characters that encompass the various needs, goals, and observed behavior patterns among your real and potential customers.

Personas tell stories about users so that we can understand the user and what the user wants, they also help in guiding decisions about products aims, functionality and design. Personas connect the common needs of multiple actual people making up a specific user group which is created after analyzing and categorizing data from user research.

User and persona

Though “persona” is used interchangeably with “user” these two terms differ in meaning when it comes to usability.
A “user” means different things to different people and is often used generically to describe the average customer. Persona in the other hand is a narrative that describes a person’s typical day and experiences, as well as skills, attitude, background, environment, and goals.
We need to start with personas in order to define the users.

How personas help in usability testing?

Personas are useful in considering the goals, desires, and limitations of users in order to help to guide decisions about a product. By using personas that everyone agrees to, the designers and developers (and everyone else on the project) can discuss how changes to the product will affect each representative user.
By designing an interface to meet the needs of specific personas, the needs of wider groups of users with similar goals are met.

Personas keep you focused

Personas concentrate on what a user does, what frustrates the user, and what gives the user satisfaction, they bring the “user” to life by providing a specific target for designing a final product and creating software with a specific, not generic, user in mind. Some teams use them as a reminder throughout the development life cycle about what’s important to users.
Without personas, discussion to becomes unfocused, leading to questions like “But what about the user who wants to do X?” or “But this works for me.” . With personas, the conversation becomes “How does this change benefit ‘Allan’?” or “What can we do to make things easier for ‘Amanda’?”

When should you create personas?

Personas development should be placed at the beginning of the project, as personas can help uncover gaps, highlight new opportunities and are critical to have before making any significant changes to an existing project.

How to define personas for different products?

There’s no standard format for presenting personas across the industry, different experts have offered different approaches. Regardless of the selected approach, what’s important is being able to group all analysis results and formulate them in a way to express what users think and what they expect.
Creating personas for smaller systems such as an image processing software or a development tool are easier because the targeted users are very specific, but there are other  systems with a wide range of users which makes defining personas more difficult.

So how do define personas for a general systems, for example GNOME 3?

We want all the users to be comfortable with the software. So the goal was to design “a self-teaching interface for beginners, and an efficient interface for advanced users, but optimize for intermediates”. Someone might be beginner to start with, but over time we want the design to encourage them to become more expert. In this sense, a persona can be thought of as a person at a particular moment in time, but that person is always evolving and learning.

If we want to be  more specific we can break down the personas into different categories, like: experience vs age or divide the experience into four areas (for example: Beginner, Moderate, Experienced, Expert).

In my next post I will be creating an example of Persona, so you can get a general idea of how a persona should look like.




One thought on “Personas

  1. Personas as definitely an important part of the usability testing process. Actually, personas are useful for any part of a DESIGN process. Whether you are trying to figure out the user interface or deciding what new functionality to add, personas can help you connect to the users.

    From Eric Raymond, “Every good work of software starts by scratching a developer’s personal itch.” Developers often start a project because they want to solve a problem that’s interesting to them. Maybe it’s an experiment that later turned into something interesting for others. Or maybe the developer needed a new tool to help him or her do a thing, and that tool grew into something others found useful. In these cases, developers don’t start with personas, because the “persona” is the developer.

    Once you shift focus to build something for other users, it’s very useful to build personas. As you cited in your blog, personas help developers discuss changes to the system in ways that address user needs. “How does this change benefit ‘Allan’?” or “What can we do to make things easier for ‘Amanda’?”

    GNOME doesn’t have personas today. Instead, GNOME has a design concept, sort of a philosophy, that anyone should be able to use GNOME and “grow into” its features. So the potential users spans a wide range. Allan Day said to us in his email: “GNOME is currently used by a wide range of people. There are people who set up computers for their families with GNOME, where family members are really beginners and will often not know what GNOME is. At the other end of the spectrum, there are technicians using GNOME in big companies, and of course software developers who are very technical and expert. … When one of our designers set out to design GNOME 3, he stated that the goal was to design ‘a self-teaching interface for beginners, and an efficient interface for advanced users, but optimize for intermediates’. I think this is a useful way to think about it.”

    Great start on personas. I look forward to reading your post on two sample GNOME personas! Allan highlights that GNOME users can be from various backgrounds, different experience levels, different age groups. So pick any two combinations of these, and create your personas.


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