Making personas the tool they were intended to be

The journey from requirements gathering to design phase has often be a fraught one.  Personas have long been a valid exercise in understanding your users and drawing requirements to help inform the design.  Unfortunately in my experience what often happens is:

  1. You run a workshop to generate personas using empathy maps with stakeholders and any additional insights to help inform
  2. You transfer all your understandings from post-its and insights over to a persona template
  3. You print them out and stick it up on the wall
  4. You do some initial research and start designing with a blank sheet of paper.
  5. You’re now supposed to ‘glance over at the wall’ and try to ‘transfer over’ all that great empathy and insight into your designs.  Which can feel fiddly and unclear.

Sound familiar?

This soon turns a crucial requirements gathering phase in understanding your customer, to something you do to tell yourself  ‘you’ve done the UCD‘ or ‘You can show the client you’ve done the research ‘… but in terms of directly correlating the findings into your designs it becomes quite intangible not very practical.  Why does this happen?  I believe personas can turn into an academic exercise rather than as a practical tool to guide and influence your designs.

Making personas the tool they were intended to be..

Following on from my post around customer and business goals,  we need the outputs at the requirements gathering phase to tell us the customer goals!  We can then use these to hook directly into our design / test / validation process.

To build your persona, I suggest you start with this empathy map format.  Ideally in a workshop – having briefed your stakeholders / SMEs with background info, and insights –  work through each of these headers of discovery in the following order  (5-10min per area):


So for example if I were an electrical goods retailer my persona might look like this…

  1. TASKS
    – To be informed in an easy, simple way on new tech and industry news
    – Make informed future purchases
    Advice from parents, wired magazine, apple announcements
    Doesn’t feel they can dedicate any longer than 2-3 min per day on this
  4. PAINS
    Overwhelmed by too many news sources and often struggle to find a retailer they can trust
  5. GAINS
    Will know about the latest tech coming out and make considered purchases
    – I’d like to be informed in an easy and simple way on tech news
    – I want to make informed future purchases

If you do this exercise for real, you will have lots more tasks/pains/goals etc.  A useful exercise is to rank then in order of importance and validate where you can with user/data..

When we start our design process these are the goals we’ll need to initially validate.  To focus that, let’s use a value statement..

Value Statement

The issue is.. (customer or business)
Customer feedback indicates demand and interest in tech news.  Traffic analysis suggests customers are dropping off to other competitors who have a stronger presence in editorial and tech news and we are losing potential sales.

which impacts.. (customer segment)
New adopters persona

who want to.. (customer goal)
be up to date on tech news in an easy, simple and quick way while making informed future purchases

by.. (customer gain)
providing short succinct tech news content that is delivered in a way for customers to be engaged and make subsequent considered purchases.

with a business benefit of.. (business goal)
Increase in brand engagement and sales

which responds to business strategy..
Increase customer retention and power sales

Now we’ve articulated clearly what and who we’re targeting, we can begin our research and validation.

Testing and validation

We can now use a test card combined with the hypothesised customer goal to validate.   Take a competitor or our early designs and let’s build a first test.

An initial research piece, might look like this:


We believe that customers would be interested in tech news and editorial, if delivered in an easy, simple and quick way.  This would then lead to increased traffic and consequently increase in sales.

Quite a lot of assumptions there!

Let’s unpack that…

  • Customers are interested in tech news
    Validation: We have customer feedback over X months confirming this
  • Easy, simple way and quick way
    Validation: No info so far, what is easy and simple for them?  How quick is quick? what length of time per day would they be willing to spend?
  • This would then lead to increased traffic and consequently sales.
    Validation: None so far, needs more tests / insight.

Now let’s throw in some of Google’s heart framework’s, Goals / Signals / Metrics.

There are probably more goals to flesh out but here are some examples..

Customers Goal (as spoken in first person)

I’d like to be informed in an easy, simple, and quick way on new tech news to help inform my future purchases
I’d be able to describe the latest going-ons in the tech industry, and wouldn’t feel like I had to spend too long to understand it
When asked about 5 of the most trended topics in tech, customers will be able to respond with tech related info after 2 min’s of reading some of our hosted editorial content.

Business Goal

These are usually quite easy to determine and your stakeholders should be able to rattle these off.

Increase in brand engagement, trust and sales lift
Customers will visit the digital channels more frequently and would purchase after visits from related traffic.
– An extra 5 visits per month for each customer.
– They will also continue to be able to do this over a period of 6 months (indicating that the solution has been sustainable).
– Increase in sales of at least 2% off related traffic that viewed the additional content.

Now we can use these goal/signal/metrics to design our tests..

Designing our first Test Card

There would likely be quite a few tests to run in this scenario but I’ve just pulled out one as an example..

We believe that..(hypothesis)
If we can identify an easy and simple way for customers to view tech news and editorial this would lead to an increase in sales and traffic.

To verify that we will..
Test a competitor’s tech news email/posts with customers to determine if they find it easy and simple to understand.

And measure.. (metric)
Customer feedback and satisfaction with verbal propensity to usefulness 

We are right if..
Customer describe competitors editorial content on tech news as useful and simple and likely to make them want to check back, bookmark site or feel confident to purchase.

Learn Card

We observed..
Customer feedback was largely positively about competitors tech news content, but also gave an indication as to why they would not revisit site.  This was due to no linkage between the editorial and purchasing journey which then gave no advantage over visiting other competitor alternatives for tech news.

We learned..
It’s important to find a way to mix the editorial with transactional elements, allowing customers to move straight to purchase.

Therefor we will..
Build and a prototype of our own editorial pages that are built-in with transactional elements to further validate design execution and propensity for customers to purchase.


So there you can see how the original learnings from the persona permeate throughout the whole process through to validation and designs making it a real tool!

Share the usefulness…