User Personas – Love ‘em or Hate ‘em?

Many product teams use user personas to define a target audience for their software, feature sets, or campaigns. The goal of a user persona is to quickly gain empathy and understanding through representing the needs of a larger group of users that you’re designing for. Knowledge of a target demographic can be extremely useful when used to improve design choices.

However, in the Product world there’s a split opinion on user personas. Some find great value in user personas, as it helps drive the conversation on the need for certain features and user experience choices. Others have concerns.

Some believe that the data that is collected for crafting a user persona is based on stereotypes that are not reliable. Some believe that the effort and resources spent creating personas could be better spent on other activities. Some hold the belief that persona information is quickly outdated. Others believe that focusing on the behavior of specific customers and seeking their satisfaction is a better use of time and effort.

Personas in Practice
A few years ago, I was in charge of designing a “life management app” for the elderly. As you can imagine, our personas were an elderly mother in her mid-70s and her middle-aged children in their 40s-50s. These personas drove many design decisions. For example, the size of the font we were using on our application couldn’t be tiny, as most users in our target demographic have some form of visual difficulty. We also intentionally used a reduced color palette to help drive our users to key actions, versus getting distracted by too many vibrant visual elements. The persona also influenced the verbiage used throughout the app – we needed to ensure clarity and consistency with the action words we chose for links and buttons so as not to cause confusion.

Using these personas as a North Star for design and product choices resulted in a very successful launch. The app was (and still is) used by a good number of senior citizens, but with all of those factors we took into consideration helping the overall usability, the experience ended up being optimal for anyone that used it.

Personas at Ncontracts
At Ncontracts, the Product Design team regularly use personas to help us make better choices. We’re constantly adding to them and updating them. Whether it’s specific pain points, building Empathy Maps, documenting key tasks and workflows, or just gathering additional demographic data, our user personas are regularly getting better. With constant incremental improvement, along with solid design principles and user experience guidelines, you end up building products that are understood by your main target, and usable by all.