Kerry Bodine is a principal analyst on Forrester Research's Customer Experience team.
In 1999, Alan Cooper, author of “The Inmates Are Running the Asylum,” introduced the concept of personas. Personas focus designers on their customers’ needs by presenting the user as a person with a name and face, motivations and goals. This structured practice helps successful firms create products and services for real people.
Through Forrester’s work in the Customer Experience group, we’ve discovered that the most effective personas are:
Based on direct study of individual users
From a firm’s existing market segments, researchers identify real people from each segment for observational studies or in-depth interviews, gathering data from the intended users of the product or service being designed. This process captures the complex goals and behavior of customers — intelligence that surveys and typical focus groups can’t provide.
Presented as a story about a real person
Well-crafted personas are presented as a narrative about a single human with a name and a face. As a result, they’re easy to understand and relate to. The sign of success comes when everyone associated with the project talks about “Paul,” a man who’s worried about his baby’s first cold and needs both guidance and reassurance to buy the right kind of infants’ Tylenol.
Focused on enabling design decisions
Effective personas describe the attitudes, motivations, goals and behavior captured by primary research. Knowing that a customer goes out of her way to avoid sales clerks and always shops by herself can tell designers whether she wants a personal shopping assistant in her favorite online store. Demographics and channel usage are nice extras, but only if they add insight to what users want to do and how they want to do it.
Successful companies use personas to:
Align stakeholders behind a shared understanding of the customer
Because personas are an accessible, easy-to-understand and compelling interface to customer data, they help quell design debates and accurately focus project priorities. Personas provide everyone involved in design decisions — from business owners to designers and developers — with a common understanding of the people who must be able to use a product or service.
Guide design decisions
To design interactive systems that respond appropriately to user inputs, designers need to know user goals, attitudes, behaviors and preferences related to their activity: Personas provide that information. For example, knowing that their primary persona logs into her online account infrequently and wants to minimize the amount of time she spends managing her money enables designers to prioritize functionality like e-mail password recovery over a fund rebalancing tool.