You can’t stream the latest episode of Succession unless you’re connected to WiFi. You can’t log into your Figma account without a password. And you can’t build an effective digital product without walking a mile in your users’ shoes.
Sure, you have a target audience. Maybe you have some intuition about your users, too. But unless you’ve built a solid set of user personas based on data, it’s nearly impossible to understand the unique humans for whom you’re building your product.
Investing time and resources into mapping out specific user personas based on data may sound daunting, but it doesn’t have to be.
With a step-by-step guide and tips to make it fun, you’ll have your fictional characters visualized in no time. And you’ll undoubtedly be rewarded in retention, brand awareness, and overall user satisfaction, too.
User Personas: The Fictional Characters That Give Your Digital Product Life
A user persona is a fictional character that represents your product’s user types based on factual data (from user testing and user interviews, specifically). These user types define critical aspects of your day-to-day work like what features you should prioritize, how your product should function, and even where you should allocate your budget.
Simply put, your user personas answer the “why” behind all your product decisions.
Think about it: When you're designing a tool that’s going to change people’s lives, you need to have empathy for those people and understand who they are. Otherwise, you’re building without a roadmap.
What are their pains, fears, desires?
What are their limitations?
Why would they want to use your product in the first place?
Designing your product blind is like ending up on a bad dating reality show; it’s never going to work out. You have to get to know your user: what makes them tick, how they respond to certain situations, and past experiences. That way, you can better anticipate their needs, what they’re more likely to convert on, and how to keep them engaged with your product for the long haul.
User Personas are Worth the Effort to Design a Product People Love
Knowing who you’re designing for makes your product that much more relevant, personal, and valuable to the people who need it most. But we’d be lying if we told you that coming up with your personas was a quick, one-and-done exercise.
In fact, creating any set of user personas worth their salt is a long process. It takes user testing, user interviewing, and a lot of tweaking to get just right.
And even when you’re done, you’re not really done. Just like your digital product evolves and adapts, so too do your users. That said, you should expect to come back to your personas over and over again to update them (yes, that means new data) every year or so.
We know what you’re thinking: It sounds like a lot of work. But just like anything worth doing, it’s worth doing right. Because when you do, you’ll not only have a story for your product, but you’ll have a solid foundation from which to draw your design decisions.
6 Steps to Creating Your Digital Product’s User Personas
If you had an imaginary friend growing up, you’ll probably enjoy creating fictional characters for your product. What’s not to love about dreaming up the people who are going to become loyal advocates of your brand?
A tip before you dive into creation mode: though you should create your user personas as a team so everyone is on the same page, designate one person to be the owner of the personas. This way, you’ll have one go-to instead of everyone disagreeing about what’s right.
Step 1. Brainstorm the top 4.
Take a look at your customer journey map and draw on your intuition. Who do you think your top 4 users types are? Don’t worry, you don’t need anything super defined yet. Just start thinking up four different types of users you see most often. Try to stick to four if you can, knowing you can whittle the number down as you get further along. This initial brainstorming will help you know where to focus when you’re collecting data.
Step 2. Get the facts.
Gather data from actual people in your users’ demographics. (If you don’t know what your demographics are, you should start here first.)
Where should you get your data from?
Conduct surveys and interviews.
Observe people in the environments or situations where they might use your product.
Interview other stakeholders on your team, like support and sales who work directly with users.
Look at support tickets — any patterns?
What should you look for?
Personal background information like gender, age, education, location, personal goals and challenges, likes, dislikes, partner/family status, and hobbies.
Professional background information like job title/role, industry, years in the industry, income level, skills, responsibilities, and experience. Bonus points if you can learn about goals, frustrations, pain points, and accomplishments.
Some information may or may not be helpful based on your product. But consider finding out what brands your user enjoys, any leaders or influencers they follow, as well as their likes, dislikes, and desires of your product.
How do your users interact with your product? This should tell you a lot about why they use it, and how, at different stages of their customer journey. For example, a freshman in college may use your student loan product in a totally different way than a recent college grad would.
Step 3. Analyze the data.
Now the fun part! Organize all the data and group like pieces of information together. Do you notice a lot of Apple users shop at Whole Foods? What about their ages, educational backgrounds, or pain points? Start to categorize personas based on the data you find. Any superfluous information? Toss it out.
Step 4. Define the personas.
Give each of your personas a name, age, gender, location, short bio, and quotes of what he/she would say, behavioral or personality notes, frustrations, pains, and goals. Then, list each persona in order of priority. (You can’t make a product that meets all your persona’s needs – no one can!)
Find a common metric to compare users against each other, based on your product’s goals. This ensures you're hitting the most important initiatives to build for.
For example: If you’re a SaaS product focusing on product management, you might have your C-suite, operations lead, directors, and account managers. These individuals might be split out into professional backgrounds, then put into a priority list.
Step 5. Create scenarios for your persona(s).
Whip out your customer journey map and create scenarios for your users’ key interaction points with your product. Start with research, then decision, buying, onboarding, and interacting with your product. Move through drop off (ouch!), coming back (yay!), and so on.
What does each scenario look like for each persona? Think about the specificities that define each group and how that may play into how their scenarios look apart from each other. The more specific you can get, the better you can reach different personas and make them feel seen in your design decisions.
Step 6. Build a user persona template.
Take inspiration from user persona templates found on Figma. Templates can save you a lot of time and help your persona information to be organized and easy to find. This template lists out everything you need to know about the user in a clean way.
Next, access our free template (above). Then, start filling it in.
We recommend including an image so you can better imagine who you’re building your product for. Use icons and sliders to visually show information in bite-sized pieces so it’s not overwhelming. Make sure all relevant demographic data is included in your template, too.
It’s best to leave building out your template to a small team so every detail is captured, but there’s no need for everyone on the team to be involved. When you’re done, make sure to send it out to the rest of your team so everyone can get familiar with your product’s new fictional characters.
Revisit Your Personas to Give Your Users the Best Experience Every Time
We’ve said it before, but building your personas isn’t a one-time thing. People change, features get scraped, new team members with fresh perspectives join the company. Nothing is stagnant, therefore, your user personas shouldn’t be either.
Every time you build a new feature, revisit your personas.
Every time your product hits a new goal, revisit your personas.
Every time you’re faced with churn challenges, revisit your personas.
Every time you’re pitching to investors, revisit your personas.
Don’t worry; you might not have to start from scratch every time. In fact, the more you go back to your personas, the more details you can tweak each time.
As you create your product’s fictional characters, have fun with it. The more fun you have, the more on-target your user personas will be. And all of that is better for building a product that’s relevant, necessary, and does for your users what no other product can do.
Lace up, and get ready to walk in your users’ shoes.