Personas: a waste of time or an insightful tool?

By Jonny Field

Posted on 19th June 2019

Reading time: 4 minutes

Welcome to one of the age-old debates amongst designers and user experience buffs around the globe. No one really knows the answers, everyone experiences different results with or without them; whether these results are positive, or negative is completely context-specific to any design process. But that still leaves us asking… are personas really worth the effort?

What are personas?

Personas are a UX tool, designated for a segment of the user experience research process that helps designers create a somewhat fictional user. What do designers do with these fictional users you ask? Well, quite plainly they are meant to navigate the gauntlet of buttons, pages, and text of a primordial product.

Personas consist entirely of personal information, skills, interests and other information that makes up a real human’s personality. You could potentially look at a persona as being a CV. But in this case, they are not applying for a job, they are simply there to help designers discover if their newly thought up product is navigable or not.

Personas can be old or young, tech-savvy or technologically challenged… however, the primary direction designers take when creating a persona is that of their target market. This aligns their fictional user’s interests and skills with the newly produced product in question.

Are personas useful?

To make a long story short… maybe.

Okay, I lied about the matter being simple, this question is purely context-specific. Some products are simple enough that they apply to a broader target market, and the product could make use of functionality that is already prevalent in countless other products.

This means that the product in question could be intuitive for most users already (let’s say it’s an e-commerce website), anyone who makes use of the internet on a regular basis has come across an e-commerce website. The process is simple enough; browse, add to cart, checkout, payment, delivery (give or take a few steps).

The process seems easy and intuitive, however, the fact that these websites are generally easy to navigate and operate does not exempt users from the toil of having to backtrack through their journey, choose different sizing options or find something they saw earlier more easily.

This is where personas come into the mix; they help us create those non-conforming users that have radically different online shopping habits. As these users fumble through the bits and bobs of the prototype website in question, they will undoubtedly come across a wall at some point.

Our job as designers is to test every possible situation and user flow through the website in order to find possible errors or redundant sections, filter through and tweak the product to its optimal level of usability. If you can see where users may get stuck in a more intuitive website scenario such as this, imagine the chaos users face when navigating completely new ground.

How does Yellow Door make use of personas?

Something Em loves doing in our team strategy sessions is combining personas with a SWOT analysis. We begin by making a list of a user’s traits; age, behaviour, job, relationship status… the works. Then we create a spider diagram, finding what strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats they may run into. This combination allows us to effectively find the channels best suited for that client’s marketing needs, and what we can do to boost their business.

These sessions – above all else – are fun! We have a time and a half as a team doing these strategy games, they leave us and our clients buzzing with excitement and hopeful about all the opportunity we can bring to the table. I would say that these persona-esque strategy sessions allow us a unique insight into what is possible to bring to the table, and what we need to watch out for along the way… discovering trends we think may work, and isolating issues before they pop up.

Should I use them or not?

Generally, as designers developing products, from UI to UX… Our goal is to be fundamentally selfless, assume nothing about a user’s capability, and just do the tedious things (cough, cough… personas), in order to understand our target market better. Even if we incrementally gain one iota of information at a time.

So yes, suck it up and make a persona… here at Yellow Door we make a fun game out of it and learn a bunch in the process, so why not own it and learn something new in the process!

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