The problem with personas

Can you think of someone who is a UK male, born in 1948, rich, famous, lives in a castle and has been married twice? Two people that fit this description are King Charles III and Ozzy Osbourne. These are very different characters with extremely different needs and motivations.

For years, personas have been something that I’ve really disliked creating. I saw them as a pretty infographic that was used to satisfy “user research” and tick a box, never to be looked at again. Or maybe worse, the persona John, who is 29, lives in the city and has a dog would influence every design decision from that point forward. If you look up “good user persona” on google images, you find beautiful photos with a large profile picture and half of the space being taken up by demographic information. So, what is the actual goal of personas and how should they be used correctly?

Personas should be built around the psychographics of an individual or group of individuals instead of demographics. They should be an accumulation of user research conducted for continual reference and team alignment.

Useful user personas should include:

A base need or job to be done

The persona should be centered around a problem. Understanding the problem that your user has in depth and why they have that problem will help lead to a better solution, based around actual users. Jobs to be done are the tasks that the user would like to accomplish in relation to a specific problem space.

Major motivations and attitudes

I would assume King Charles III and Ozzy Osbourne have very different motivations. Discovering their motivations and attitudes allows questions to be answered early on around why users act the way they do, how those behaviors feed into their needs and the tasks they need to accomplish.

Other observations or quotes

Including real quotes is a great way to build empathy around users. This should be used to compliment what their needs, jobs, motivations or attitudes are.

Let’s move away from creating personas to fit a certain stereotype, check a box or look pretty on the wall and instead make it into a way to show research findings and articulate the problems that our users face.