Get To Know Your Customers Persona-lly

In a recent post, I mentioned a common affliction of many companies — self-centeredness. One of the best ways to beat this problem is with the use of design personas. At Forrester, we’ve published a long stream of research on the topic of design personas that goes back several years (sorry, but the full research is only available to Forrester clients). In a report that we wrote in 2003 — Executive Q&A: Design Personas — we defined design personas as:

A composite description of a real person who represents a primary customer segment. These descriptions contain detailed information on the motivations, goals, and preferences of a representative customer.

Why are design personas valuable?
Design personas help companies make informed, fast design decisions. By creating a shared, vivid picture of target customers’ behaviors, project teams can better evaluate how to satisfy customer needs. The impact: less scope creep from unwanted and unnecessary features, faster consensus across the team, and none of the pitfalls from self-referential design.

How do they work?
Let’s say that one of your design personas is named “Jill Morgan.” The discussions in your company would change from “I want this” and “I like that” to “what do you think Jill would want?” In this way, design personas push companies to shift their focus from inside-out to outside-in.

There are three key pieces to a good persona:

  1. Primary research. Valid personas don’t come out of the blue. They emerge from user research — often requiring ethnographic techniques (sorry, but spreadsheets and data warehouses do not provide enough information about your customers).
  2. Compelling documentation. The research needs to come to life in documents (sometimes online) that help people feel like they “know” the persona.
  3. Active usage. Design personas should be incorporated within decision making processes — from initial funding requests through detailed design tradeoffs.

If you’re interested in knowing more about design personas (and I think you should be), then read several of Moira Dorsey’s recent reports:

The bottom line: Now that you know about personas, there’s no excuse for self-centeredness!

About Bruce Temkin, CCXP
I'm an experience (XM) management catalyst; helping organizations improve results by engaging the hearts and minds of their employees, customers, and partners. I enjoy researching and speaking about these topics. I lead the Qualtrics XM Institute, which is the world's best job. We're igniting a global community of XM Professionals who are inspired and empowered to radically improve the human experience. To achieve this goal, my team focuses on thought leadership, training, and community building. My work is driven by a set of fundamental beliefs: 1) Everything starts and ends with human beings, so you need to understand how people think, feel, and behave; 2) XM is a discipline that needs to be woven throughout an organization's entire operating fabric; and 3) Building the XM discipline requires a combination of culture, competency, and technology.

One Response to Get To Know Your Customers Persona-lly

  1. Thanks for the brief but solid summary of personas, Bruce. I find that examples often drive the point home, so I’ll direct folks to a case study that includes a persona they can download. This case study illustrates the “three key pieces” you outlined: ethnographic research led to insights that contradicted the results of earlier focus groups; a set of personas captured the insights and presented them in a compelling manner; and the personas affected not just detailed design, but the overall product and marketing strategy. This case study appears in full detail as a chapter in the book User-Centered Design Stories, but the publisher has given me permission to share highlights on my blog at the link above. Hope some people find it useful.

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