February 21, 2019

Persona Analysis: Understanding Users to Build the Best Possible Product

Everyone wants to build a software product that customers and end users will love. But how do we do it? Persona analysis is a way to get to know the target audience and explore their needs and goals so we can make sure that the product we build will be useful, enjoyable, and indispensable for our intended users.

In order to conduct persona analysis, we develop user personas and look at what drives them. This allows us to imagine how they will use the product and therefore prioritize features based on what our users really need and want.

What is a user persona?

A user persona is a characterization of an average user or customer who will interact with your software product. When talking about user personas, we are talking about archetypes of the typical kinds of people who will be using the product.

Personas are not the same as stakeholders. While stakeholders are people or groups that have a specific interest in your product and its development, user personas are the people who will actually be using it. While users can sometimes be considered stakeholders, the way we look at users as stakeholders (generally with low influence over the product) is fundamentally different from how we need to analyze them as personas.

There are several different philosophies for how to work with user personas. Some advocate for giving them a name and a picture and specifically defining them as an individual person. However, during the Product Inception process, we like to think of persona analysis as a first date. You can't expect to learn everything about your date over your first dinner together, because you know it will take time to get to know them. We have found that user personas sometimes develop along with your product.

Discovering Personas

So, how do we figure out who our personas are? First, we must define what the product is about with the help of a Product Vision Board. Then, keeping the product vision at the center, we have to think about who will use our product. Who are we making the product for, and what will they use it for?

Imagine we want to create an internal app for college professors and their students that allows professors to upload syllabi, share resources, and post information about assignments and lectures for students to access. Our main users are going to include students and professors, so we will need to look into both as user personas in order to determine the best way to design our application.

Persona Analysis

Once we have discovered our user personas, we will need to analyze them in order to figure out how their behaviors, their wants, and their needs will affect the way we design our product and how we prioritize functionality and features.

When we conduct persona analysis, we generally work in groups of 2-5 people, depending on how many people are present. We have group members take turns posting sticky notes for each user persona under the categories: Skills, Concerns, Goals, and Technology. They should come to a consensus within their group about what they post before all the groups come together and share what they've created. At the end of the exercise, everyone in the room should reach a team-wide consensus, producing a unified analysis of user personas.

Persona Analysis Board
Persona Analysis Board

Skills

The Skills category refers to a user persona's backstory and general education level as well as their skills and hobbies. How do they spend their time? We need to understand the user's level of literacy, what kind of information they are familiar with, and what their interests are in order to understand what is important to our users and thus cater to their needs.

In our college app, for example, the professors are all highly educated. We know that they spend a lot of time researching and staying up to date in their field of study. They will generally spend a lot of time reading and are highly literate. All of this information helps us understand the best way to organize the information we are going to put in our app.

Concerns

Here, we need to define the user personas' concerns related to the product. Every user has a need they are trying to fulfill when using the product. What is that need, and what do they worry about in relation to that need?

Our professors spend a lot of time preparing their materials, so they will want to make sure that their students can access them easily. They also need to make sure that the instructions for assignments are clear and easily accessible so that students know exactly what is required of them. Professors have a lot of demands on their time, so they want to avoid emailing back and forth about due dates and page limits. They will want the app to display and make available as much information as possible so that they can spend their time interacting with students meaningfully and answering insightful questions about course material.

Goals

The Goals category is related to Concerns, but it's not the same. Here, we look at what the user persona is trying to achieve with the product. What value do they receive by using it?

Professors want their students to succeed in their courses, so meaningful collaboration and interaction with the students will be important to them. Our students also want to succeed and, obviously, get a good grade, so collaboration and interaction with the professor will also be important to them. The Goals category helps us see where the goals of our different user personas coincide and determine which areas are extra important for our application.

Technology

For the technology category, we need to evaluate the user persona's level of technological literacy and what kinds of technology they interact with on a regular basis. Are they comfortable with technology? Which do they use most often: a mobile phone, a tablet, a laptop, or a desktop computer? How do they engage with technology in their daily life? Looking into these questions will tell us a lot about the UI/UX we need to develop for our software product in order to engage the users.

College professors are generally comfortable with technology, especially the technology that is required for research, though their comfort levels may vary depending on their age, field of expertise, or interest in technology. They probably spend a lot of time on a laptop or desktop computer but may not use their mobile phone as often. Our students, however, have most likely grown up with technology ever-present in their lives and spend a lot of time on their mobile phones. They also spend a lot of time on their laptops when studying. This information leads us to think we should probably develop both a desktop and mobile version of the app, so that professors can easily upload information on a computer and students can access it either on their laptops while studying or on their mobile phones when they are on the go.

Conclusion

As you can see in the examples above, evaluating skills, concerns, goals, and technology in relation to our user personas helps us to develop important insights about features and functionality. In the end, our users are the ones who need the app, and in order to make it a helpful tool, we have to examine what they specifically want out of it. Persona analysis allows us to dive deep into our user personas and understand not only what they need and want, but how those needs and wants overlap. Persona analysis is an important step in the Product Inception process that allows us to begin creating and prioritizing user stories that will result in a effective product.



"Persona Analysis: Understanding Users to Build the Best Possible Product" by Rafael Morante, Adriana Campoy and Layne Hofman is licensed under CC BY SA. Source code examples are licensed under MIT.

Photo by Jamie Street under this license.

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