Ah, the age-old question: should I follow the heart or the mind? Which is more important –  empathy or rational thinking? When it comes to human-centred design and creating digital products with real-life users in mind – the answer is… both! That’s why a User Persona is a must-have tool for any professional in the creative field. By combining an empathic approach with research and hard data, you will be able to understand your audience and deliver the best user-friendly solutions. With this mission in mind, we’re here to share with you our Engagement Design team’s holistic approach, as well as useful tips and tricks!

But… what is a User Persona? 

Let’s start with a quick definition! A User Persona is a semi-fictional character who represents the needs and wants of a larger group of users. Pretty straightforward, right? But wait… how can someone be semi-fictional? In this context, it means that your Persona is more than a product of your own wild imagination. Rather than that, it should be a well-researched and knowledge-based visualisation of your actual target audience. 

Yeah, yeah, we know – searching for information isn’t everyone’s cup of tea… But before you get discouraged by this step of the process, let us show you why putting effort into crafting your Persona is extremely beneficial to whatever project you’re working on. Think of it that way – if creating a digital product is a journey (and a difficult one at times!), then a User Persona is your best travel companion as well as your guide

Get to know them!

They say travel broadens the mind. A big part of that is meeting new, interesting people and hearing their stories. Similarly, listening to (or rather – observing) your target users helps you build empathy and gain a fresh perspective, a better understanding of their needs and concerns. By befriending your design journey companion – a User Persona you’re crafting – you are able to create more user-friendly digital experiences. This way, you can have a substantive impact on improving real people’s lives!

Let them guide you

More importantly, a Persona is not only your travel companion but also a guide who will help you navigate through the ideation process. Visualise your customers’ wants and needs, and subsequently identify exactly what they expect from the product you’re developing. With a clear understanding of a problem you’re here to solve, you can avoid adding unnecessary features or, let’s say, choosing the wrong tone of voice in your brand strategy. In other words – a User Persona holds the map to finding the best solutions. Convinced? So, let’s get crafty! 

A step-by-step guide to creating a User Persona

Here’s where HeroDOT’s unique holistic approach comes into play! By combining experience and analytical thinking skills with empathy and intuition, our Engagement Strategists craft useful and well-rounded Personas – in just 3 steps!

Step #1 – Research & Gather Data

If you’re scratching your head right now and asking yourself “How am I going to do that?”, we have some good news for you! Having access to a large budget, specialised tools and complex datasets is great. But a lot of times, focusing on observing real people in their digital habitat can give you insight into your audience’s needs. 

For our Engagement Strategists, the first step is conducting thorough desk research and analysing benchmarks. It’s also a good idea to rely on web analytics or even open up some statistical reports and research studies – as long as you keep in the back of your mind that demographic data doesn’t tell us everything about a person’s mindsets and motivations. It’s just a great jumping-off point!

Key components

When it comes to observing your users’ behaviour, you should focus on these three key components of every User Persona:

#1 Key demographic(s): What is their personal and professional background – their age, gender, family status, current occupation? In which environment do they operate? Basically – who are they

# 2 Key motivation: What is their main goal? What motivates them to achieve it? What are their current behaviour patterns? And most importantly – how does my product answer those wants and needs?

#3 Key pain-point: What is their main barrier to achieving their goal? What issues do they face? How can my product help them overcome those challenges?

Step #2 – Analyse & Segment

So, you have your well-researched data – great! Now it’s time to analyse the gathered information and to look for patterns and trends. Remember – focus more on what motivations and needs to connect your users, rather than what demographic characteristics divide them. When you’re ready, start splitting these groups into categories. You should end up with roughly 2-5 identified types, which then you can prioritise and start turning into full-fleshed User Personas!

Step #3 – Create & Refine

If you search for “user persona templates” online, you’ll find lots of professional-looking editable files. Honestly, it doesn’t matter all that much if your Persona takes the form of a captivating 2-page CV-like document or a simple bullet point list. Sure, including additional fictional details, like a photo, name, or summary quote, could bring your character to life and help your team visualise your target audience. But relying on them too much could easily be distracting or worse – turn your Persona into a harmful stereotype. 

Tips & tricks from our Engagement Strategists

Tip #1 – It’s better to start small

…than to not try at all! If you’re creating a new product and don’t have a lot of data and information at your disposal, you can start by creating a Protopersona – a type of Persona that is based on Engagement Strategists’ less in-depth research, as well as their experience and intuition. Just remember to be extra conscious about your own internal biases and prejudices that could negatively influence your design process. 

Tip #2 – Think of a scenario

We talked about a goal-directed approach to User Personas, but you can always expand them in a more role-based direction. Imagine a scenario where your character interacts with your product in their specific environment. Ask yourself: what roles do they take on in this context?

Tip #3 – Avoid self-referential design

Sure, as designers, we love creating things that excite us and that we would gladly use ourselves. That’s why it’s easy to fall into the trap of projecting your own preferences onto your target users. Remember – your User Persona is your map that you can always refer back to every step of the process!

In conclusion

When creating a well-rounded User Persona, let your heart and mind work together! Use desk research and benchmark analysis as a jumping-off point for a more holistic approach. Rely on your experience and knowledge, build empathy and focus on what connects your users, rather than divides them. With a User Persona as your travel companion and a guide, you are ready to embark on your next design journey! Good luck!