User Personas: A Sherlock Holmes Analogy (Intro to User Persona)

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Have you ever heard about Sherlock Holmes? Yep, the detective. Or should I say consulting detective? He lives in Baker Street, 221 B. His roommate is John Watson, who used to be a doctor in the army. Sherlock thinks really fast, extremely observative, and accurate about his deduction. I can tell you so much about the great Sherlock Holmes, like his habits or how he dressed, but then I will tell you that he is a fictional character. All of this explanation, and you might be thinking, so what?

Now going to the actual topic, I will introduce you to something called user persona. Based on,

Personas are fictional characters, which you create based upon your research in order to represent the different user types that might use your service, product, site, or brand in a similar way. Creating personas helps the designer to understand users’ needs, experiences, behaviors, and goals.

So, user personas are basically fictional characters you made to be the target users of your product. With that being said, that does not mean that I can make Sherlock Holmes my user persona. Although I like his character very much, we have to make the user persona from a research's actual data upon your product’s user needs. Personas should answer the question, “who are we designing for?”. If we understand the expectations, concerns, and motivations, we will be more likely to fulfill the target user's needs.

Why User Persona?

When developing an application, whether it is a mobile or website app, we need to understand exactly who will be using our product. We need to have a clear problem statement to solve a real user problem. Empathize is the first step in designing a product if we want to make something useful for the people who will use it. User personas help us empathize with their needs by thinking about the needs of the fictional character to infer what a real person really needs.

How Do You Define A User Persona?

Before you make a user persona, you need to make sure that you have already done plenty of research to make sure that the persona you’re going to make accurately represents your actual user. The conducted user research is used to understand the target user‘s mindsets, motivations, and behaviors. It is essential to collect as much information by interviewing or observing a sufficient number representing your target audience. The more people observed, the more realistic the persona would be.

What if I don’t have time to conduct any research?

It may actually happen if you don't have enough time or resources to do so. You can still make a user persona based on your stakeholder insight and analyzing your competitor's product. If the product is a new idea, I recommend you to do the research since it means that the product has no competitor. It will be a hassle to define the target user.

Step 1: Identify patterns and differences between users.

Take a closer look at the data gathered. The goal during this step is to find patterns in the data that make it possible to group similar people into types of users. These groups will then form the basis of each persona.

Step 2: Create your personas!

In this step, it is important to work based on the groups’ data. The description made on this step must be expressed enough to gain understanding and empathy for us to understand the users. It is possible to create more than one persona. However, too many personas will get too overwhelming. That’s why minimizing the number of personas is also important for us to make decisions for the product later on.

In this step, you have to name each persona and describe them in 1–2 pages. These descriptions including:

  • A picture
  • Basic Information

Basic information here including demographics such as name, age, occupation, marital status, and location.

  • Goals

Goals are one of the keys to a persona. It shows us the main goal the need to achieve with our product. With that information, we can make a product that will satisfy and fulfill their goals.

  • Frustations / Pain points

Frustrations here means things that get in the way of achieving users’ goals. This is also important because the product we are going to make is based on the persona and try to solve their frustrations and pain points.

  • More details to make him/her more realistic and relevant to help build empathy (e.g., habits)

Step 3: Put it in a scenario.

Personas become valuable only if they are tied up to a scenario. A scenario is an imagined situation that consists of a problem that prompts how a persona would interact with a product in a certain context to achieve its end goal(s). We will use it to help us determine the main flow of the product.

Step 4: Share and get feedback!

Distribute your persona to the team and stakeholders and get feedback from them. All of your team members and stakeholders should be familiar with the final personas. Through the product development process, a well-made persona will be treated as a real person and help us a lot in decision making.

Here’s one of my team’s product personas for the PPL project:

Mrs. Susi is a 35 years old housewife who lives in Jati Asih, Bekasi. As a housewife, she cooks every day for her family. That means she produced used cooking oil every day as well. One of her frustrations is she doesn’t know where to dispose of the used cooking oil since it cannot be thrown away just anywhere. She also doesn’t know if there is an app that does trash pick up from door to door and get an incentive. That’s why our product goal is to accommodate people like Mrs. Susi, so people can store their used cooking oil and get incentives from it by just staying at home.

Another example of persona is Valen, a user persona from my other project:

Valen is a university student, who lives alone in Depok. He majored in computer science and also an active player in basketball. Being active academically and non-academically makes Valen a really busy person. There are also a lot of times when he stays up all night to do his homework so he often gets sick. But being the busy student he is, he doesn’t want to spend more time visiting a doctor to talk about his health. He hopes that he can figure out his health by not going to the hospital to meet a doctor.

So, can Sherlock be on the list of the personas? He could, when your research showed that a user — exactly like him, is part of the target user. But, just a small tip, avoid using real names or existing characters to prevent bias in the objectivity of personas. Or you’ll end up making the design only for him!

Computer Science, University of Indonesia