Guide to UX Persona

What is a UX persona? To those who’ve never seen this term, it sounds like something that’ll be weird and confusing. To those who have heard it, they may mistakenly consider it another name for the hypothetical user construct that marketing creates for working out their strategies or models.

A UX persona, however, is something different. Remember in the past, how we talked about hypothetical situations and storytelling thought exercises as ways to work through UX ideas before the focus groups and testers are unleashed on candidate designs?

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Ok, well, UX personas are fictional users that are often used in those exercises. A UX persona answers a very specific set of questions about a specific kind of user and demographic.

This differentiates from test model users, which consist of specific sets of tasks, and can be assumed by any intelligent person to perform real active tests.

No, these personas are used in planning navigation flows and design aesthetics, as well as orders of action. With these hypothetical people, with specific personal history, philosophy, mindset and needs formulated, we can then imagine these individuals going through these planned designs, and surmise how they will react to them.

This lets them spot potential annoyances or needs to rethink layouts and navigation to better accommodate the types of users you want to market to. However, one definite caveat about these personas is that you can’t rely on them as the final word, because they’re virtual and still subtly influenced by the team running them through hypothetical situations.

As such, they are perfect for the early stages of UX design, such as paper prototyping, wireframe phases, and early beta testing. Beyond there, it’s time to bring real focus group people in to test with, because it just got real.

Now, the thing to bear in mind is that while creating defined personalities with names, races, ages and a basic history and defined mental state is important … it’s also important to not get carried away with making them so sophisticated that it becomes a project just to design one.

Once you’ve come to terms with that balance, just ask yourself one question starting out. What questions need answered about specific types of people going through specific design concepts? You then create personas that match those conditional questions, with enough depth to make them work, but not so much that it bogs the whole thing down disastrously.

This is a beneficial practice, and making it somewhat engaging (remembering not to get carried away) can stimulate creative thinking in the team. It may get them to realize new types of people to test based around, and get an extended view of possible demographics to cater to.

So, using the UX persona concept has its merits, and there’s no clinical book on how to design them. Just following these common sense pieces of advice is more or less all you need to come to grips the idea, and applying it effectively. Beyond that, it’s not really something that can be taught, only learned from experimentation and refinement. But, it’s worth it, and it’s the missing piece of the puzzle for how you probably wondered how these story scenarios for testing were intended to be conducted.

Megan Wilson
Megan Wilson is user experience specialist & editor of UX Motel. She is also the Quality Assurance and UX Specialist at WalkMe Megan.w(at)walkme.com
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