Personas: Improve Your UX with Human-Centered Design | Ash Graydon | Skillshare

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Personas: Improve Your UX with Human-Centered Design

teacher avatar Ash Graydon, UX & SEO Consultant | CEO & Founder

Watch this class and thousands more

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Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Watch this class and thousands more

Get unlimited access to every class
Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Lessons in This Class

    • 1.



    • 2.

      Activity 1 - Who is Your User Brainstorm


    • 3.

      What are Personas?


    • 4.

      Why are Personas Important?


    • 5.

      Activity 2 - Your User's 5 Why's


    • 6.

      How to Create Personas


    • 7.

      How to Use Personas


    • 8.

      Activity 3 - Fill in the Blanks


    • 9.

      Words of Wisdom


    • 10.



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About This Class

In this class, veteran UX professional Ashley Karr will teach you everything you need to know about personas. Learn what personas are, why they are important to the human-centered design process, how to create them, and how to use them to improve your business, product, or service. On top of that, Ashley Karr includes practical examples and downloadable templates that will help you on your way to building and leveraging effective personas that drive product success.

People who can benefit from taking this class are:

  • Beginning to mid-career UX professionals in need of help with persona development
  • Senior UX professionals in need of inspiration and support for themselves or their teams
  • Business and marketing strategists wanting a practical way to make their process more human-centered
  • Product and project managers, as well as engineers, who may not have UX resources on their team but still want to include UX best practices in their work

To prepare for this course, you can download and print the persona templates that Ashley provides and grab a pen or pencil, or you can fill in the template files using PowerPoint. During the course, Ashley will lead you through three activities that culminate in a completed proto persona you can use to direct further user research and product design efforts.

Meet Your Teacher

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Ash Graydon

UX & SEO Consultant | CEO & Founder


Hi! My name is Ash Graydon. Nice to meet you. I am a Human Factors and Systems Engineer specializing in UX Research and Search Engine Optimization with 18 years of tech experience. I am passionate about teaching and mentoring UX professionals to help their careers grow, as well as bringing my expertise to small and midsize businesses to help them grow.

I want to respond to a few requests and questions that my viewers and followers often post.

First, many of you have requested that I share more examples and case studies. I would like to do that, and I agree! Majority of my work is protected by NDA. This means I cannot share it on platforms like Skillshare. I used the examples from my agency because I own the legal rights to it and can share it freely with you all. ... See full profile

Level: Beginner

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1. Introduction: Hi, I'm Ashley. In this course, I'll teach you a practical technique to better understand your customers in order to create a successful product they'll love. Personas are the heart of human-centered design. They're where the rubber meets the road for making things like designs, products, services that truly serve the end user. Before we get started, let's take a minute to introduce ourselves. Please connect with me on LinkedIn, Twitter or through my website I'd love to know who you are, where you're from and why you were drawn to this course. I've been working in tech and doing human-centered design and engineering for over 15 years. Currently, I head up the user research program at OCI which stands for Oracle Cloud Infrastructure, Oracle's new cloud. I'm also an entrepreneur. My company Design and Think offers training and consulting services that inspire innovation. By combining methods from design thinking, human-centered design and graphic facilitation, we help companies create products their customers love. I've trained hundreds of thousands of people worldwide and my trainees work for companies like Google, Microsoft, Amazon, Apple, Adobe and Disney. During this class, I'll be teaching you about personas. You'll learn what personas are, why they're important and how to use them in your human-centered design practice. With the class project, you'll complete something called a proto persona. We also call them persona hypotheses or provisional personas. You can base your proto persona on an example or on a design you're working on in your own life. Ultimately, you'll be learning a practical method that will help you create a better product or service that your customers love simply by getting to know and understand them. This class is broken up into 10 smaller sections. Here's our agenda. After this brief intro, we'll have our first activity. We'll be doing a quick brainstorm about who we think our customers are. The next section answers the question, what are personas? Then we'll go over why personas are important. In our second activity, the five why's, we'll consider our customers motivations for using our product with a technique from Simon Sinek. I'll walk you through how to create personas and I will show you how to successfully use personas. During our third activity, Fill in the Blanks, we'll be using a persona template that I provide you. Finally, I'll leave you with some words of wisdom from my 15 plus years of experience working in the field and we'll wrap up with a quick interview of what we've covered in the class. You can do all of the activities with pen and paper. I also provided you with activity templates. You have the option of printing out the PDFs and writing on them or you can open the PowerPoint files and type in to them. It's completely your choice. So, go ahead and press pause to get prepped for the activities. 2. Activity 1 - Who is Your User Brainstorm: In this exercise, we'll take five minutes to think about and record who we think our customers are. We'll write out our thoughts and assumptions on a sheet of paper to get them out of our heads and into reality. I'll be walking you through an example in just a moment. We can include demographics such as customer age and place of residence, and psychographics, which is their state of mind and attitude. After I walk you through an example, take five minutes to complete your brainstorm then share it with us. So this is an important first step in creating our proto-personas. Proto-personas are based on our assumptions and prior knowledge of our customers, but lack of rigorous data collection and analysis to back them. We create proto-personas for two reasons. First, we're able to expose our biases. Everyone has a bias. The best way to not let our bias blind us is by being clear about what our bias is, so we can't deny it. Second, we use proto-personas to guide our research efforts when gathering and analyzing actual user data for our finished personas. Proto-personas help with things like research strategy, recruiting efforts, and recruiting screeners. So here's my brainstorm based on my assumptions and prior knowledge of design and thinks customers. The age range is 25 to 40, and I assume that they live in urban areas in the United States. They most likely work in a capacity related to UX in some way, and they have a desire to improve their UX skills. They want some type of outlet and support for creative problem solving from a seasoned professional, but they don't want to break the bank. They already purchased a lot of UX-related books and take UX-related classes. Also, they're looking for practical resources they can use at work immediately, and they want these resources to be high quality. Now, it's your turn. You can brainstorm based on customers from a project you're working on in your personal or professional life. If you don't have a project of your own, you can use audible for your class project. Audible is Amazon's audiobook app, and it's my favorite app. I also created exercise examples for audible. But I encourage you to pass this class, brainstorm on your own, and then check out my audible example. So, here's my brainstorm about audible customers. My assumption is that these customers love to read, but they have busy lives and don't have much time to sit and read. They want ways to escape unpleasant parts of their busy days, as well as, expand their horizons. There are particular authors and genres they love, and they also care a lot about quality of narration. They use smartphones multiple times a day and already have an Amazon Prime account. They have extended periods of time where they can listen to audiobooks, but have to be hands-free such as during a commute. So there's my audible persona brainstorm. Make sure you share yours. I'd love to see how ours compare. 3. What are Personas?: Personas are representations or models of our customers. We base them on aggregated qualitative and quantitative customer data. Then we create composites from the common themes and trends we discover when analyzing this pool of data. These database models provide product and service design and development teams, a customer-focused framework they can use to generate and evaluate designs that serve the customer. Without personas, teams will often only have business or implementation-focused frameworks and the customer's needs and characteristics will not be supported by the end design. So, here's an example of a persona for a web-based work management application. This persona was based on four months of research which included stakeholder interviews, observing support calls, running multiple usability tests, interviewing over 20 customers, and analyzing usage data and administering surveys. Even with this much data backing up the personas, it's important to keep iterating especially after launching a product or important feature. We can use data collected post launch for improvement and refinement and personas are moving targets. As soon as you think you understand your customers, things change and we've got to keep up. You'll see that I'm not using a photograph yet, just an icon as a placeholder. This is meant to represent the early stage of development for the persona which is similar to a wireframe. I include sections on attitude, learning styles, and a general description of this person's character traits. Then, I go through this customer's pain points. In reference to attitude and learning styles, I developed what I called an onboarding psychographic grid which shows how willing or reluctant a user is to learning something new as well as the way in which they initially prefer to learn. Each quadrant has some design suggestions to support the learning style and attitude of a given customer. Next, I list out this customer's needs as well as their goals while onboarding with the product. Last, I construct a scenario for the persona that shows the context in which they begin engaging with the product. This is a great example of how to use storytelling and human-centered design with your persona as the main character. Introducing your team or stakeholders to your persona in this scenario is a great way to engage your audience before leading them into a prototype demo. Through my research, I actually uncovered five different user types, but hit on Rebecca, the lynch pin as the primary persona. The primary persona is the most important of all your personas. They're the person who is the cornerstone for all other user types. Meaning, if they never used your product, no one else would, and if they left, your other users would as well. In the early 1980s, Alan Cooper, a noted pioneer in software development, author and founder of Cooper, a user experience design and development firm, invented personas as a tool for human center-designed. My friend in UX, Titan Lane Halley, worked for Cooper in the mid 90s and talked to me about how personas were created and used by the people who invented them. At Cooper, personas were a serious design and development deliverables. All aspects were based on data. Primarily qualitative data gathered through ethnography and contextual inquiry. In order to make the personas as real as possible, they would find the most likely first and last name of their personas based on government census data. They would never use clever or funny names or nicknames for these important documents. The rigor and professionalism they put into persona creations spilled over into the way their clients responded, and they became a critical tool for keeping designs focused on supporting user behaviors and goals which translated into product success. 4. Why are Personas Important?: Personas create a common understanding of who customers truly are amongst teams. If a team can't agree upon who the customer is, imagine how hard it will be to align on what the product should be. Having a written source of truth about customers, keeps teams aligned and on track to designing something that will be adopted and used. Personas create a framework you can use to generate design ideas that will support customers as well as evaluate how well executed a design is in terms of supporting customers. The psychographic grid I shared at the beginning of this class is a great example. As a team is designing onboarding pages, they can ensure that features exist to support various attitudes and learning styles. During design critiques, we can use the same grid to ensure that these needs have continued to be supported through various design iterations. Numerous studies show that creating connections with individuals, including seeing photographs of an individual, greatly increases empathy. People are more likely to do things, like donate to a charity, when they can see pictures of the individuals who will receive those funds. When we're designing products, we often get blinded by what our company and product need for getting the customers. Personas can help trigger empathy and remind us to design to our customers' mental and behavioral model rather than our businesses' organizational model or engineering's implementation model. 5. Activity 2 - Your User's 5 Why's: So, take about five minutes to ponder what motivates your customers. Ask yourself at least five times why they might be using your product. Write down what you come up with and share it with us. This technique is taken from Simon Sinek, Author and Marketing Consultant. Ask yourself why your customer might be searching for or using your product. What are they thinking, feeling, or doing at the moment they discover your product, decide to purchase, and begin to use? Ask why and give any answer at least five times. Around the fifth answer, you'll hit some type of universal human theme or need. That's when you know you've gone far enough with motivations, and you can stop asking why. So, here's my 5 Why's example for Design and Think. I ask myself why a customer would want to come to Design and Think and purchase one of my courses. Here's what I came up with. So, my customer would say, I want to find quality human-centered design lessons and resources that I can immediately use for work at a reasonable price point. So, then, I would ask, why is this important? My customer would say, I'm passionate about making good products that people can use, but I need to be able to do this in practical ways. Most of the quality sources are too theoretical or too expensive. So, then, I would ask, why is this important? My customer would say, well-designed systems and products should be available to all people, just as human-centered design techniques should be available to all people building those systems. It seems hypocritical to have human-centered design be so exclusive. Then, I would ask, why is this important? My customer would respond with something like, this is about people, good people wanting to make good things for other people. Then, I've got to ask again, why is this important? My customer would say something like, the people making these good things were people too. Resources to support us should be designed using the same techniques being taught. So, I feel okay about this. It isn't perfect, but it's making me think about my customers' motivations, and this is a really good thing. So, now, it's your turn. You can use the template I provided, or you can use a blank sheet of paper to write out your 5 Why's. Keep working with the same customer you used for the first activity. I'll show you my 5 Why's for the Audible example in a bit, but right now, press Pause and write out your 5 Why's. So, here are my 5 Why's examples for Audible customers. The Audible customer would say something like, I love to read. Then, I would ask, why is this important? Then, the Audible customer would say something like, reading opens up my world and broadens my horizons. So, why is this important? The customer would say, I think this makes me a better person and it keeps me from getting stuck in a rut with my busy day-to-day routine. So, why is this important? My customer would say, it's important to me to keep growing and learning, to be interested in something outside of my comfort zone, will also help me be a more interesting person. So, why is that important? The customer would say, this is about getting the most out of life and experiencing what the world has to offer in a way that's within reach. 6. How to Create Personas: Where can you gather user data, you can roll up into personas. Well, Cooper's initial personas were based on interviews and observations of eight representative users. That's certainly a great place to start and here are a few more suggestions for where you can get customer data. For existing organizational data, you can look at the following: Customer support data such as call drivers, usage data such as Google analytics, customer training, help documentation, interviewing team members who interact with customers on a daily basis such as retail specialists and customer support specialists, market segment data and social media channels. User research techniques that can help you actively gather customer data include the following: Ethnography and contextual inquiry, surveys, interviews, usability tests, customer advisory boards, and focus groups. You can find much of this data by doing a little research within your organization by holding stakeholder interviews, asking colleagues to share resources and files with you. You'll be surprised at how much user data is available to you with a little bit of legwork on your part. I do want to stress though, that there is no substitute for actually spending time with your users, talking to them, listening to them, and observing them. Remember five to eight is the ideal sample size for this type of research. However, even observing one customer is better than none at all. Learning how to analyze data is too big of a topic to cover in this class; however, there are a few pointers that we do have time for here. First, there are many great analytics programs now that will provide you with excellent quantitative data and you don't have to be a statistician to figure it out. Survey tools like SurveyMonkey do a great job of quantifying results for you and most social media and Web hosting platforms have analytics that are part of their basic feature set. Qualitative data can be trickier to analyze, but here's an example of how you can analyze qualitative data you collect during customer interviews, record the interviews after getting permission from your customers, of course. And as you listen to the recordings later, write down words and phrases that stand out to you on three by five cards or post-it notes, then, start grouping the cards into common concepts. We call these content codes. Once all your cards are grouped, give each content code a descriptive, memorable title. Next, take note of all the content codes and from them you'll see larger themes emerge. We call them emergent themes. Make sure you write these down as well. Finally, list your emergent themes and content code titles and give a brief description of each, perhaps with a direct quote or two for impact. Be sure to document your personas and share them with team members and stakeholders. It helps to know who will be the consumers of your personas to tailor them to their liking. If you work in an organization that prefers people to give presentations supported by PowerPoint slides, then format your personas as PowerPoint slides. If you work for an organization that likes white papers, create your persona as a word document. Figure out the format your audience likes best and go with that. 7. How to Use Personas: You can use personas to give direction to user research. You can use them to create screeners when recruiting participants for research projects, to define questions for surveys and interviews, and to decide which flows through your system should be turned into a prototype for a usability test. Personas can also help your team make product decisions. Personas can often help define which features are high priority for your customers which in turn helps with feature prioritization. As you develop a feature or product, it's important to keep revisiting your persona and make sure that what you're creating is truly something that will meet your customers' needs. Additionally, as you develop your product, you'll learn more about your customer as long as you keep doing user research along the way, and you can use that information to improve and refine your personas. 8. Activity 3 - Fill in the Blanks: Take about five minutes to fill in the proto persona template I provided. I included a number of sections for you to fill out including a space for a photograph, demographics, technographics, which devices they use, and level of comfort with technology, brand affinity, pain points, needs, and goals. Here's my proto persona for Design and Think. Her name is Lisa Mack. Here's something she would likely say during an interview, "I care passionately about human-centered design. So, why is it so hard to find useful quality resources out there to support me in my career?" She's between 30 and 35 years old, lives in Chicago, makes just around 100,000 a year and works as a product manager for a late stage startup. She majored in communication studies and minored in business institutions at Northwestern University. She has a 15-inch MacBook Pro and an iPhone 8 that she uses multiple times a day, every day. She also uses her Fitbit and Jawbone speakers daily. She has a high comfort with technology. She has a strong affinity with the following brands: Skillshare, O'Reilly, Moleskin, Apple, Virgin, and WeWork. Her pain points are, she's short on time for continuing education because of her demanding career. She can't find quality UX and human-centered design resources within her budget. She needs practical resources fast when a project demands a certain method or technique, and she doesn't feel connected to other human-centered design professionals who care about quality. Her needs and goals are to quickly and easily find quality online human-centered design and UX resources that are affordable, purchasable and expensable with her company credit card, easily downloaded that she can use straight away at work and are clearly from a credible source and connect with them on LinkedIn. Now it's your turn. You can use the template I provided or you can use a blank sheet of paper to finalize your proto persona. Keep going with the same customer you've been using for the last two exercises. I'll show you my audible example in a bit, but right now press pause and finalize your proto persona. Here's my proto persona for Audible customers. His name is Jim Newman. Here's a possible quote. I love to read, but I'm really busy, audio books help me solve this problem. I can read and do other things at the same time. Jim is between 55 and 60. Makes between 250 and 350 K, lives in Redmond, Washington, and works as an engineer. He uses a Microsoft Surface Pro at home, and Android, and he recently bought a Nest home security system, and loves his Garmin GPS watch. His comfort with technology is high. He has a strong affinity with the following brands: REI, HBO, National Geographic, Canon, Subaru, and Eddie Bauer. His pain points are, he loves to read but doesn't have enough time with his busy schedule to do so. He loves particular authors, genres, and audiobook narrators, but doesn't want to waste his precious time or money on books he doesn't care about, and he hates losing his place in his books or not being able to read when he does actually have a spare moment. His needs and goals are to read as much as possible and not change his routine or productivity; to quickly and easily find the authors, genres, and narrators he loves; and quickly and easily return an audiobook he doesn't love; to always know where he left off in his audiobook, and have the app sync on all his devices. 9. Words of Wisdom: Sometimes our hypotheses, who we think our personas are, says one thing and the data says another. This is where things get interesting. There could be an entire population interested in your work that you weren't considering. Differences and unexpected results often mean huge opportunities. Don't be afraid of them, dig in, and find out why the discrepancy exists. You always come out with amazing insights. You may experience pushback from team members and stakeholders on the personas you create which will hopefully, if you have a healthy team, open up respectful debate. This always makes everyone's work better. However, you may experience pushback regarding the concept of personas altogether. This is a much tougher situation and I encourage you to just go ahead, make them anyway, use them anyway, and teach the naysayers the power of personas through example. There are way too many articles out there trashing personas. If anyone educated about what personas actually are, read them, they'll find that these articles are unsubstantiated, unhelpful, and sensationalized. It seems like most authors are just trying to stir up controversy to get people to read and comment on their article rather than encouraging best user research practices. They also are not exercising their best judgment regarding how this will negatively impact the ability of good researchers to do their jobs properly. Engineers, PMs, marketers, and senior leadership far and away outnumber researchers. We already have to fight an uphill battle for resources, support, and a seat at the proverbial table. These types of articles serve no good purpose and the only reason to read them is to be forewarned and forearmed because inevitably, one of your stakeholders will have looked at an article like this and formed an incorrect preconceived notion about this crucial user research method. Base them on actual data. Don't make jokes in personas, don't make their names something silly. Remember the Census Data tip from Lane Haley earlier in this class. Make your personas human, not caricatures. If you don't take them seriously, your team won't, and if your team doesn't take them seriously, they won't use them. Treat your personas as if they were real people with dignity and respect. At the end of the day, that is what human-centered design is all about, putting people before protocol, process, products, and profit. 10. Wrap-Up: By this time, you should have a really good grasp on what personas are, why they're important, how to create them, and how to use them. Also, you've got a finalized proto-persona, which means you're ready to go out into the world and test whether or not your assumptions are correct. Make sure you share your proto- personas along with your brainstorm and your five whys with us. Some next steps are to interview and observe five to eight potential customers, send out a survey to potential customers, or observe potential customers using a product similar to your own. Thanks very much for watching. I hope you keep in touch. You can sign up for my newsletter on my website, follow me on Twitter @designandthink, or connect with me on LinkedIn. Most importantly, make sure you keep working directly with your potential customers while you're developing your product and after launch. Remember, people matter more than technology, so put people first.