Personas: The Foundation of a Great User Experience


In a recent article that I wrote on personas for UX Magazine, I discussed the need for two rounds of qualitative research in order to pinpoint personas and to make the connection between persona behavior and desired product features and functionality. Since that writing, I have received a good number of questions about this second round of research that I call “Targeted Behavioral Research.” In fact, I noticed recently that someone on LinkedIn posted to his network in response asking for someone who understands the “real” process to please chime in on why this round of research is necessary. So, I’d like to go into a little more detail about the rationale for this second round of research.

First off,  it is critical to understand that when you begin a persona project, the goal is to get to know your users on a much deeper level than you otherwise would if you were just using demographic data.  In order to do this, you must have a discussion with the users in the first round of research that is at a very high level in order to sniff out those motivations and attitudes that drive the users’ behaviors.  If you narrow your questions too quickly, you’re sure to miss out on critical details about your users.  Also, since you have no idea which behaviors will be exhibited, you can’t possibly come up with a discussion guide that allows the researcher to ask intelligent questions about specific behaviors.  And, since you have no idea which behavioral patterns will show up across your customer base, you can’t possibly create a discussion guide that probes on how these behaviors relate to specific product features or functionalities.  Simply put, you don’t know what you don’t know.

The second round is targeted.  In this round, you’re focused on specific user profiles based on the data you gleaned from round one and how their behaviors relate to specific products, features and functionality.  Doing round two does increase the cost of the overall project. Typically, depending on the project, you’ll talk to 5-8 people per user profile in round two, which amounts to approximately 24-36 interviews.  This will add additional expense to your project tab however, obtaining this information takes much of the guesswork out of product development. The user personas will be backed by two rounds of solid research and you can, therefore, feel confident to use this data to inform the development of tailored product features and functions that meet the habits, needs or desires of your target customers.

Is there another way to get this done, without the second round?  The answer is yes, it is possible.  Instead of doing a large piece of research in the form of a second round, you can piggy-back other research initiatives and have a portion of that research focus on specific user types and how their behaviors relate to specific products.  Since typical qualitative research includes 6-12 interviews, and since only a portion of the research will focus on the user types, it will take a series of projects to arrive at the behavioral insights you’d glean from a second round.  And, chances are that you’d make a greater number of mistakes along the way.  That may be OK.  It really comes down to your team’s budget, timeline and strategy.  If you’re a product manager, part of your job is to assess risk, reduce it and increase the likelihood of success.  The more information you obtain, the less risk you take on with the new product.  So, in a nutshell, that second round of research reduces your risk and increases your confidence that the product decisions you’re making address the specific needs of your customers. If you forego the second round of research, the tradeoff is that you may have additional iterations to the product, a greater volume of support calls, lower adoption rates, etc. For you, the product manager, the key is to assess the costs of potential problems against the costs of doing a second round of research and subsequent rounds of iterative testing to get the product right.



  1. Tara

    What a great overview. I think that the idea of piggy backing other research initiatives can be very effective. This is especially helpful for freelancers who may have limited resources. I have had to use this method myself to get the right information in a short period of time.

  2. Erica

    Smart thkining – a clever way of looking at it.