Humans have long used storytelling as a means of communication. From morals and myths, to facts and figures, there’s something about spinning knowledge into a compelling narrative that aids in listeners’ understanding.
Think back to some of life’s earliest lessons. We all remember “The Hare and the Tortoise,” right? You know, slow and steady wins the race? This famous fable communicates an important truth that even the youngest among us can comprehend. That’s because when expressed through relatable plotlines and familiar characters, information shapeshifts. Suddenly, complex concepts and vital life lessons become easier to grasp. Our brains find patterns in the stories that we’re told. By coaxing us to make emotional connections with the details of their narratives, we can quickly find the message at the very heart.
Designers, product strategists, and content writers are no strangers to the art of storytelling. Leveraging this basic human expression to create immersive user experiences is not just part of the job, it’s essential to every stage of the process. And whether you’re developing a mobile app or launching a startup, that process always begins with understanding who those users are in the first place.
Dimensional characters are what drive our stories forward. In the world of product development, user personas do the same. Think of them as your bright-eyed protagonists: fictional representations of the actual users you want to target with your company’s product or services. Rather than detailing one specific individual, however, user personas reflect the characteristics of a broader demographic. They both humanize and simplify a wide-ranging dataset surrounding the needs, goals, behaviors, and frustrations of your customer base at large. Their power lies in their accessibility; concise yet relatable, they communicate information in a way that’s both memorable and easy to understand.
Personas shed light on the different ways — and reasons — people buy and use your product. Backed by extensive research, an effective one can help you meet the needs of those target audiences by guiding your product’s development. Just take it from Aesop’s endearing tortoise. In the same way this character taps into our emotions to moralize diligence over haste, user personas build empathy for your customers. They bring real people back to the center of what you do and encourage you to advocate for them on their behalf.
Like any strong central figure, user personas give a gripping performance as the story unfolds. Sure, they lay the groundwork for the earliest phases of development and design, but they also serve as a useful tool long after launch. By driving relevant content, inspiring impactful marketing strategies, and galvanizing product improvements, user personas play heroic roles every step of the way.
First, there are no hard and fast rules around how many user personas you need to create. It all depends on the amount of data you collect — and the goals your product aims to meet. That said, we recommend developing anywhere from three to five distinct personas to represent your product’s core customer base.
Like our friend the tortoise, user personas are, of course, make-believe. But the most effective ones are based on real-world research you’ve gathered out in the field. To build the foundation of your user personas, begin by collecting as much information as you can about your target audience. Interviewing customers, holding focus groups, deploying online surveys, and observing your users in action are all great first steps. Just keep in mind that accuracy is everything here. The more factual information you’re able to gather, the more valuable your personas will be.
So, you’ve compiled all your data — and if we had to guess — there’sa lot of it. How do you distill this information in a meaningful way? Here at Big Human, we tend to opt for function over fluff. That means that whether we’re building a brand personality or developing a positioning strategy, use cases always serve as our guiding light. Our approach to putting meat on the bones of our user personas is no different, which is why we suggest identifying the behavioral variables outlined below.
Activities: What does the user actually do with the product? How often and to what extent?
Attitudes: How does the user think about the product domain and technology?
Aptitudes: What education, training, and ability to learn does the user have?
Motivations: Why is the user engaged in the product domain in the first place?
Skills: What are the user’s capabilities related to the product domain and technology?
With these behaviors serving as benchmarks, you’ll soon be able to identify patterns in your data. What pain points do your users share? How do they use your product to alleviate some of those frustrations? Important insights regarding who your audience members are — and what they need — will rise to the surface. Start organizing these behavioral patterns into different user groups. Then, watch as your character arcs begin to take shape.
Throughout this final stage, you have the chance to personify some of your cold, hard data by fleshing out powerful descriptions for those user groups. To help bring your personas to life, consider including photos, names, quotes, and job titles. Just remember that, as always, we’re striving for pragmatism versus performance. Incorporate demographics like age, income, location, marital status, and hobbies if — and only if — you feel they’re relevant.
By the end of this process, you should have a handful of well-crafted personas that highlight the key details of your most common users. Of course, plot twists aren’t unheard of; the success of that product is never guaranteed. But a deep understanding of those it serves can help provide an optimal user experience from beginning to end.
Need an expert storyteller to help bring your user personas to life? Send us a message.