How Do You Create Personas?

May 20, 2006

The challenge of creating personas has been nagging at me for some time, so I jumped at the chance to attend a recent Offermatica webinar, where Forrester research was going to speak about personas. (I would have published this post earlier, but I have been waiting… and waiting… and waiting… to hear from Forrester about permission to reprint their slides here.)

I feel like the problem of persona creation (or as Forrester calls it, Persona-lization) is even harder than we suspect because the personality type can be sliced along so many axes, and those axes change given needs. For example, there is a MarketingSherpa case study on Whirlpool’s creation of personas. Whirlpool breaks out personas based on need – did their washing machine break and they need a new one today , or are they building a new home and considering what kind of washing machine to purchase? And then we can take each of those need-based personas and break them down by personality type (is the individual who is purchasing the machine someone who needs to understand the difference between the various cycles, or are they just someone who wants to feel good about their purchase?)

In the webinar, Forrester started by defining the right number of personas (somewhere between 4 and 7). The pointed out that the first part of the process is to identify similarities across user segments to make the whole process simpler, and they used a financial services model:

Identify similarities:

Step #1: Interview people in the various groups. Their example was to interview individuals of both genders in four different segments: recent college grads, recently divorced, high-net worth and recent retirees. (I kept wondering about the high-net worth recent college grads, or the recently divorced retirees, but fortunately, all those webinars mute your phones and so I didn’t ask. If I had asked, I would probably learn that yes, there are rich recent college grads, but we are looking to create personas, not outliers.)

Step #2: Cluster interviewees along important axes. The axes they chose were amount of money in your account, how comfortable you are with managing money, and how often you log into your account. In their very simplified example, the recent college grads and recently divorced interviewees were all poor, uncomfortable managing their money, and rarely logged in. (Real life is never this clean cut, but it works for a one hour webinar.)

Step #3: Create personas based on attributes that are important for design decisions. So, in the simplified example, they created Joyce Tong, a 28 year old new lawyer with student loans, who is uncomfortable managing her money, who logs into her account frequently. Joyce has three goals: to pay off her loans, to build a little savings and to spent as little time as possible managing her account. The other persona they build was Bill Loftus, a senior manager who has lots of money, is comfortable with money and who logs into his account daily. His goals are to build wealth, enjoy a comfortable retirement and feel in control of his finances.

After creating the personas, Forrester built them out so that the personas felt like real people. Joyce already has a job, and now we give her a picture and narrative around her life, specifically as it relates to money. The narrative emphasizes her pet peeves (“After a tough week at the law firm, the last thing Joyce wanted to do was spend time working on her finances.”) It creates empathy by giving us enough detail to understand her (“Opening her browser, she went to the Favorites menu and took a moment to consider which bookmark led to the account log-in page of her company-sponsored investment site…”) The text works in design issues (“Once in, a look at her account menu baffled her.”) And it calls out the key attributes and goals mentioned above in Step #3. Finally, it includes a quote from Joyce or other involvement device (“I’m making more money but working 70 hours a week!”)

One of the most interesting (and fun) parts of persona-based design is keeping them alive. Forrester didn’t address this issue, but other companies have. Some companies create life-sized cut-outs and put the cut-outs in the room where the designers usually meet. I read that Yahoo! created personas and then created a tri-fold laminated brochure for all of their designers to use. And I often hear about companies where the designers refer to the personas at each step of the way: “Yes, but would that work for Joyce?”

I got on the Offermatica website to see if they are offering the webinar again but couldn’t find out. If everyone got as much out of it as I did, I’m sure they will.

Robbin Steif