Persona Pros & Cons: How to Develop Personas + Alternatives

Melissa G Kim, UX Designer

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9 Lessons (39m)
    • 1. Intro to Personas

    • 2. What: Personas 20 yrs ago & today

    • 3. Why & When: To Use Personas (Pros)

    • 4. 6 Cautions and Cons

    • 5. How: Grounding Personas in Research

    • 6. How: Putting it Together (A Case Study)

    • 7. 7 Persona Alternatives

    • 8. How: Using Personas Effectively

    • 9. Practice


Project Description

"Personas, like all powerful tools, can be grasped in an instant but can take months or years to master. Interaction designers at Cooper spend weeks of study and months of practice before we consider them to be capable of creating and using personas at a professional level." – Alan Cooper, creator of Personas

STEP 1: Identify a specific area to focus your attention on. You'll be creating a persona for (ex): an imaginary start-up of your liking, or an existing service/product you use often. If you're having trouble thinking of a topic, you can start by observing [non/intuitive] experiences that happen around you and asking questions. (Ex: I order a drink or food from an establishment at least 2-3x a week, so I've noticed the differences in the ordering of the items on the menu, the complexity, etc. I wonder how easy it is for people to select which drink they want to order off the menu at the local coffee/boba shop? I wonder what would make it easier? The established space/experience here would be that of menu and the vocabulary/order of the ordering process. Less ice, more sugar/syrup, your name, the size of the drink, etc. How do people rationalize their choices? Are there trends in the way people try and fail to order their drinks? Are there trends in the types of consumers of this store? Is there a store where it's super easy to order vs a store where it's difficult?)

STEP 2: Conduct research. One critique of personas is that people in the [design] team don't seem to truly empathize with users unless they were involved in the design research phases of actually talking to users or pouring over the transcripts/audio clips, searching for insights. Thus, for this exercise, I encourage you to prepare to make a persona by starting with research (ordered from minimum to maximum opportunity for learning):

  • design an online survey w/ at least one long free response open-ended question, share it on a social media platform, collect at least 10 responses (20min)
  • have casual, 5–15min conversations with 5 strangers (1.5hrs)
  • make a poll on [ex: Facebook] to find 5 people to interview, interview them with a research script (1.5hrs)
  • design a short online survey, select 5 people to have phone conversations/interview, prepare some questions you need answers to and try listening sessions (Indi Young-style, 4hrs)

The time-box may make this project seem intimidating, but this is an opportunity for you to grow your skills as a designer (at the least) and strengthen your portfolio (at best). Synthesize your transcripts/notes/audio recording into short phrases on sticky notes. Affinity map them together and identify findings, then...

STEP 3: Create a persona or persona alternative based on research. Document it visually using tools like Illustrator, Sketch, Photoshop, Keynote/Powerpoint, or Xtensio.

  1. Create a persona or persona alternative with content (pain points, values, quotes, etc) based on your research (30min)
  2. Optional: Write a short paragraph explaining why you chose to represent the research the way you did (as a persona or persona alternative), and how you think it might benefit an overall project or presentation.
  3. Upload your work as a single PDF (if you used pptx/keynote, you can convert it into a PDF).


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