How to Use Proto-Personas

A quick way to Kick off your user-centered design sessions

What is a persona

Let’s start with a definition borrowed from the Nielsen Norman Group:

Personas are representations of a cluster of users with similar behaviors, goals, and motivations.

Where do you start?

Collect real information about who’s using your product, and who isn’t. Collate you data and look for patterns. Typically, you’ll end up with two or three personas who represent groups of people you’ll be design for. Then use them as a guide post to test your assumptions, and to help make better decisions.

Where to gather your data

Data is the heart of a useful persona. A great way to start is by reaching out to customers — happy customers, mad customers, and former customers. I prefer gather qualitative information from them, rather a customer satisfaction survey. Work from a standard set of questions, but keep loose enough to dig into answers to help reveal their motivations.

It may seems like strange but I’ve often found clients who are hesitant to give designers access to their customer base. That’s ok for proto-personas. You can mitigate the lack of direct data by interviewing stakeholders and the sales team. They’ll have the most direct contact with their customers. But, be on the lookout for bias and assumptions that aren’t supported by facts. Try to drill down on anything that seems fishy until you get to their underlying motivations.

Lastly, get access to what ever analytics are being collected. They can quantify and prioritize the what you’ve learned in interviews. Collate and organize your data

Now that you’ve collected some information, it’s time to make some sense of it all. Grab some sticky notes (or equivalent), and write one thing you leaned per note. Move the notes into groups. Groups should consist of similar answers, concerns, and pain points. From these groups, begin to develop representative customer personas.

You should be looking for these qualities:

  • Situation and Environment - When, where, and how they interact with your product
  • What the need - Goals and successful outcomes
  • Pain Points - What about their current solution isn’t satisfying this needs

Persona Templates

I like to keep my persona template simple and low fidelity. I usually use a sheet of paper and a Sharpie.

Divide your paper in to four quadrants:

  • Top left - Identity
  • Top right - Situation and environment
  • Botton right - What they need
  • Bottom left - Pain points

Proto-personas from my students at U Arts

Treat them as living documents

They should be subject to change as you learn more about the people using your product. Use them to weigh your priorities and trade-off as your design.