In the process of developing a product, the product team usually comes across endless decision-making dilemmas. When average product teams encounter difficult decisions, they tend to follow their gut, whereas great teams utilize user personas and user data.
User personas are a valuable tool for helping product teams deepen their understanding of their users. Such understanding enables product managers and designers to make all types of decisions, from what to build next to simple design decisions like where to place a button.
So what are user personas and how can you craft ones that improve your team’s ability to make important decisions? We will cover all you need in this article.
Table of contents
- What is a user persona?
- What to include in a user persona
- User persona vs. ideal customer profile (ICP)
- How do user personas drive product decisions?
- How to build a user persona
- User persona templates
- User persona examples
What is a user persona?
A user persona is a fictitious representation of a product’s end users. You create a user persona based on data that you generate from extensive product research. It’s explicitly designed to help product teams understand their end users deeply by digging into their problems, goals, needs, pain points, behaviors, and preferences.
User personas are used throughout the entire product lifecycle to ensure that a product is built with the users’ context in mind, rather than guesswork or risky assumptions.
What to include in a user persona
The user persona design differs from company to company and from squad to squad. It possesses every single data point you need to understand the user context fully. However, in general, it might contain elements such as:
- Demographic information — Basic user details like age, gender, occupation, education, income, and location. These data aid in comprehending the context and background of the user
- Personality traits — Characteristics of the user’s personality, such as their values, attitudes, and beliefs. This aids in comprehending the user’s psychological and emotional influences on their conduct
- Needs and pain points — What the user lacks and where they are vulnerable. This helps you understand the user’s problems and what they are trying to achieve
- Goals and objectives — How the user defines success. This helps you understand the user’s mindset regarding the future
- Behavioral information — Information about the user’s behavior, preferences, habits, and goals. This helps to understand the overall user’s motivations and decision-making process
- Scenarios and use cases — Use cases and scenarios, such use of a feature in different situations. This helps to understand the user’s context of use
- User quotes — Direct quotes from the user and insights gathered from user research initiatives like open-ended surveys and interviews. This allows for empathy and understanding toward the user
User persona vs. ideal customer profile (ICP)
Ideal customer profiles (ICPs) and user personas are two techniques product teams use to understand the pain points, needs, and preferences of their customers. However, they serve different purposes and are used in different stages.
Ideal customer profiles are fictional representations used companywide to define the type of businesses, organizations, companies, or individuals who would be most likely to use the product or the service the company offers. The ICP includes components such as the expected revenue, location, and top pain points.
An ICP is primarily used in the B2B scene to determine which companies will be willing to use the company’s offerings.
User personas, on the other hand, are detailed fictional representations of only one segment, or a small subset of the overall company’s ICPs. These are more detailed and specific than an ICP because they guides decisions across the product squads.
How do user personas drive product decisions?
User personas are powerful for driving critical product decisions. Personas can help you with:
Always state the problem and design the product with the user in mind. The adoption of the product will increase because the product will serve the user’s needs. When a persona is crafted from multiple research initiatives, the product team will have a 360-degree perspective on the users’ preferences and pain points. This allows a team to design products that match their preferences and solve their problems.
Increased user retention
Users leave your product for many reasons. When the product team understands the user pain points and documents them, they will introduce product improvements that address the issues and keep the users engaged.
User personas are one of the simplest and most powerful tools for prioritization. You can do this by creating a matrix where you classify your different personas in columns and then your features in rows.
From here, assign a criteria-controlled score for how each feature affects that specific persona. As another example, you can watch this video by NNgroup that explains how prioritization is done using user personas.
How to build a user persona
The entire process of creating user personas can take 1-2 quarters. It’s not something you can simply build based on existing internal assumptions.
The four steps below will help you to build a user persona that will guide your team as they make critical decisions:
- Align with the product stakeholders
- Launch qualitative and quantitative research
- Identify commonalities
- Create user persona profiles
1. Align with the product stakeholders
First, have a kick-off meeting to acknowledge the importance of the user persona. Align internally with your team, acknowledge the importance of having a user persona, and identify the most significant user group/segment of your product.
2. Launch qualitative and quantitative research
The second major step is to launch various research initiatives to understand the user’s traits and problems deeply.
Common techniques for gathering well-rounded views of your users’ behaviors and needs include:
- Open-ended surveys
- Observational studies
- Usability tests
- Contextual inquiries
3. Identify commonalities
Once the data is collected, organize a synthesis workshop and start identifying user commonalities across components like user behavior, pain points, motivations, and goals. When you have identified the commonalities and aligned your stakeholders, you are ready to move to the final step.
4. Create user persona profiles
Using the commonalities you uncovered. Create a user persona that documents all of your major findings across all the user persona components (such as goals and pain points).
User persona templates
This user persona template will help you create detailed and accurate personas that improve decision-making throughout the product development lifecycle. By focusing on the most critical and significant user segments, this template ensures that your product team builds user-centric solutions that address real pain points and issues faced by your users.
To create a user persona using this template, adhere to the steps outlined above and record the following information for your team:
- Persona name
- Role or occupation
- Image or illustration (optional)
- Demographic information
- Personality traits
- Needs and pain points
- List user needs and difficulties
- Describe pain points
- Goals and objectives
- User goals
- Behavioral information
- Scenarios and use cases
- List use cases and scenarios
- Describe how the user interacts with the product in different situations
- User quotes
- Include direct quotes from users
- Insights from user research initiatives (open-ended surveys, interviews, etc.)
Remember to continuously update and refine your user personas with new research and insights to keep them relevant and accurate.
If you’re a more visual learner, this user persona template by Megan Cattley is another great resource to help you get up and running:
User persona examples
Now that you understand what user personas are and how to create ones that drive better product decisions, let’s walk through some practical examples:
Example: Online grocery store
Meet Tom, a 42-year-old single dad who values convenience and time-saving solutions:
- Name — Tom Johnson
- Age — 42
- Occupation — IT specialist
- Location — Chicago, IL
- Goals — Save time on grocery shopping, find healthy meal options for his kids, reduce food waste
- Pain points — Limited time for grocery shopping, difficulty finding healthy meals, managing a tight budget
- Bio — Tom is a single father of two children who works full-time. He wants to make healthier meal choices for his family but often finds it difficult to balance work, parenting, and shopping. Tom is comfortable using technology and prefers online solutions to simplify his life
Example: Language learning app
Meet Maria, a 28-year-old graphic designer who wants to learn a new language for her upcoming trip:
- Name — Maria Sanchez
- Age — 28
- Occupation — Graphic designer
- Location — Austin, TX
- Goals — Learn conversational Spanish for an upcoming trip, connect with locals, expand her skillset
- Pain points — Limited language learning experience, uncertainty about effective learning methods, difficulty staying motivated
- Bio — Maria is a creative professional with a passion for travel. She has an upcoming trip to Spain and wants to learn basic Spanish to enhance her experience. Maria is familiar with various digital tools and enjoys learning through interactive experiences
Example: Fitness app
Meet John, a 35-year-old marketing manager who wants to improve his overall health:
- Name — John Thompson
- Age — 35
- Occupation — Marketing manager
- Location — San Francisco, CA
- Goals — Lose weight, build muscle, and maintain a healthy lifestyle
- Pain points — Time constraints, lack of motivation, difficulty finding a suitable workout plan
- Bio — John is a busy professional who struggles to find time for exercise. He has tried various workout routines but has trouble sticking to them due to his hectic schedule. John is tech-savvy and owns a smartphone and a smartwatch
If a company or product team genuinely wants to build products that meet users’ needs, investing time to build user personas would have a high ROI. Creating detailed and accurate user personas can help the team be more user-centric and driven by the real pain points and the issues of the users.
To build a user persona, it is critical for the product team to launch a variety of research initiatives and involve all stakeholders in the process. Remember that you need to focus on the most critical and the most significant user segment for your product. Also, continuously build and launch different research projects to update and refine your user persona.
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