How to make personas that work [Inside 31Volts]

A persona are an important artifact used in the design proces to capture and describe the person you’re designing for. The goal of a persona is very simple: it helps you make better decisions. Personas come in a lot of shapes and sizes. One of the hardest things to do right when making a persona is to make your persona credible. Credible in the sense that you actually believe that the persona represents a user for your product or service that actually exists. A credible personas helps you to relate the person it represents.

Caricatures aren’t personas

Let’s say you’re making a persona for a group of students. You describe a typical student as never having money and always late at appointments. Although that might be true (in some cases), if you just put the focus these characteristics your persona will be very one sided. Without adding any other details to this persona that balance the other characteristics it will be very hard to believe that this persona actually exists. People have their own typical characters, but they also have the things that make them complete. That’s maybe the best answer. If you don’t balance your persona you run the risk of ending up with a caricature, it won’t give you a complete image (and true) of that person.

Nobody is interested in boring personas

While you don’t want to exaggerate certain characteristics you do want to have enough detail in your persona to make it interesting. If you focus too little on the things that make a persona unique, you’ll end up with a persona that is too shallow. Your persona becomes too shallow if you describe your persona as: “She’s a mom with two kids and live in Amsterdam and drives a station wagon”. That’s not even close to a persona and it certainly won’t give you enough input to base your decisions upon throughout the rest of the process.

A persona has a life outside of your service!

You’ve got your credible person written down. Now you only describe that person in the service you’re designing? No not really, what you want is to understand the person you’re designing for in a broader context. Being able to imagine how your persona behaves in a different context helps you to better understand the person who your designing for. So imagine the mom with two kids again. She’s at a supermarket. You don’t want to have a persona that just describes the mom and her behavior at the supermarket. You want to be able to imagine that mom with those two kids, how she acts at work, how she acts in the gym, in completely different situations than only within the service of the supermarket.

Please tell me WHY

Let’s go back to the mom from the supermarket one last time. We want to be understand her outside of the supermarket. We need to describe the persona of our mom in a way that will make it easy for us to imagine her in a hospital or at the school of her kids. The most thing you want to capture in your persona is the ‘why?’.

So to give an example. You might notice that that mom always buys the same type of cornflakes but she always takes a different route through the supermarket. It you leave it at that, within your persona just describing these two things, you’re not saying anything about the reason why she does that. If you’re able to figure out why she buys the same type of cornflakes: is it the taste, is it the quality or is it just laziness? Those are really important things know and to describe your persona. If you take a closer look at why she takes a different route through the supermarket you might discover that they supermarket has a chaotic layout and she gets lost or that she likes the to bump into stuff rather than to check off groceries of a list? Two completely different reasons for taking a different route. What you want in a persona is to capture the motivations, fears, ambitions, all those things that help you to understand and predict behavior.

Good personas are like lead characters from a movie

A thing I do with my personas is to think of them as lead characters of a movie. I try to imagine if I can place my lead character in different scenes. If my persona is good enough I can see the movie playing out in front of me when I close my eyes. You’re movie only moves forward if your persona is motivated to do something. So if noting happens it means you probably don’t know enough about his or her motives. You can use this trick at any stage in your design proces.

A final advice regarding personas is a really common service design tip but ‘go outside’. A lot of personas that I see are made behind the computer screen, googling and making assumptions. Surprise yourself, go outside, and try to find your persona in the wild. Capture them!

Inside 31Volts (subscribe on youtube) is all about service design tools & methods, and their characteristic traits: the things you wish you would have known before you started your service design project.

Marc Fonteijn

Marc Fonteijn

Als medeoprichter van 31Volts houdt Marc zich bezig met het verleggen van grenzen binnen service innovatie. Marc helpt organisaties om waarde te creëren voor hun klanten door middel van design.

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31Volts [Service Design]