Personas Done the Right Way

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Often clients come to us with personas they’ve developed that they would like us to screen against when recruiting for upcoming research.  Once in testing, realizing there’s a disconnect, the client begins grasping at straws trying to justify the respondent and why he/she “fits” into that specific persona.  I’ve seen this happen time and time again, and I must admit it’s a little entertaining when it does.  The issue is not with the recruit or the respondent, it stems from having poorly constructed personas and/or classification questions identifying these personas.  In conversation I question how they created their personas, and there has been a reoccurring theme….”Our agency.”

If I am getting ahead of myself I apologize.  Personas are hypothetical archetypes based on User research determining a unique set of behaviors and motivations that affect decisions.  Personas help guide companies’ decisions about product features, messaging, interactions, and visual design.  The main thing to focus on in that statement is “based on User research.”  When agencies tackle personas, often the Users are not the focus.  They interview a very small pool of respondents, interview co-workers or create personas based on segmentation models, not behaviors.  This is largely due to the fact that agencies are often more interested in validating the design or product they’ve already created.  Take the “Your Baby is Ugly” analogy.  When conducting user testing, designers have spent numerous hours on their product and feel it to be the optimum experience, so they can easily take offense when respondents criticize their work.  To them, they are calling their baby ugly.  Agencies are too close to the product therefore making it hard for them to separate and create unbiased behavior personas that tell the complete story.  They create marketing personas or use cases to endorse their design.

At User Insight we take a 3-phased approach when creating personas:

Phase 1 – Framework Research:  We conduct 24-36 National contextual (In-Home/In-Office) interviews with respondents that fit within the target audience or predefined segmentations.  The objective of these interviews is to uncover patterns and trends in Users’ behaviors, motivations, attitude and goals.  Detailed analysis of the patterns and trends ultimately yield behavioral differentiators.  These interviews are then charted based on their behaviors and clusters of Users are then identified establishing the framework from which personas will be created.

Phase 2 – Targeted Research:  Behavioral recruiting criteria is created based on the results of the Framework Research.  Five to eight participants are recruited per cluster utilizing the customized screener to participate in Targeted Research.  Each User representing a specific archetype is asked to provide feedback on targeted marketing approaches and messaging, various types of interaction designs and functionality, and technology/social media habits and practices.  The findings from this round of research will further enhance and flesh out the nuances of each archetype leading to the creation of User personas.

Phase 3 – Persona Creation & Socialization:  Personas are created based on the User archetypes that represent the patterns and characteristics of the people interviewed.  Using the data collected from the previous two phases of research, we analyze and create persona artifacts including descriptions of behavior patterns, goals, and attitudes and environment, with representative personal details to bring the personas to life.  Workshops are then conducted with key stakeholders and project teams in order to introduce and socialize the personas and provide guidance on implementation on how to best leverage them.

Using this approach creates solid unbiased personas that you can apply to many different areas and build upon each time you conduct research.  For instance, at the bottom of this persona profile is a Feature & Functionality Chart that we create once the personas have been developed.

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Down the left side are each of the personas and across the top are all the different products, feature, functions, messaging and other interactions we tested with each persona to align their behavioral traits with each.

As you continue conducting research, add features/functionality to this chart and at a quick glance you can identify which of your personas would utilize or find certain facets of interest.  Create personas the right way and you will be on your way to a truly optimal User experience.

If you are interested in learning more, please contact User Insight at 770-391-1099 or email us at


1 Comment

  1. Julio García

    Nice abstract of your methodology finding and defining personas, very useful information. I also wrote something about the same subject in my blog, though it’s in spanish. Great work!