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How Many Personas Do We Really Need?

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How Many Personas Do We Really Need?

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If we're all so different, how many personas do we really need?

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As designers we all have our own take on what it means to be creative. What one person considers effective design may not always be the opinion shared by others. Here lies the dilemma in developing online user experiences that appeal to our target audiences.

One tool we use, that has suffered a turbulent past in terms of its application, is personas. When we receive a client brief to develop an online product or service, one of the key questions we ask is “Who are we creating this for and why do they need it?” It is only in answering this question that we can begin to create meaningful and valuable user experiences that fulfil a real consumer need.

The concept of creating personas stems from an inherent need to really get to grips with our target audience. Whilst the process of customer segmentation offers a first step into categorising who our customers are, only through reaching a deeper level of understanding of what their motivations, frustrations and characteristics are, can we begin to satisfy their desires through our designs.

Creating personas gives a design team a shorthand way of describing who they’re building things for – when you want to design solutions for fulfilling specific user needs or overcoming barriers, you need to be clear on the root purpose. If you end up with a dozen market segments that have no clear distinction in terms of user goals, it will only create noise and decrease the clarity of the design process.

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Yet with so many variables that make each and every one of us the unique beings we are, how do you decide how many personas is enough to successfully satisfy your brief?

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The number of personas you create is ultimately dependant on the size and diversity of the user base for your product or application. Whilst your product may have a broad end user appeal, by creating too many personas, you run the risk of trying to design something to please everyone and diluting the fundamental message you are trying to communicate.

During the process of trying of identify your personas, the breadth of insight captured from interviews and ethnographic research can be overwhelming. In order to make sense of the valuable information you have gathered, all the data needs to be consolidated and packaged in a digestible, natural way that designers themselves can relate to. Personas are exactly that – they are stories about “real” people, someone we can empathise with and relate to their pains, needs and environments, just as we would when analysing our own unanswered wants and desires.

Every product or service has a primary set of features that most of the users use most of the time (so called “red routes”). You need to think about these when differentiating personas. Creating a separate persona just because it “feels different” is a fruitless exercise if most of the goals within that new persona will overlap with another – it all depends on the type of product proposition.

Research suggests, and we at Pomegranate agree, that creating between 2 and 4 personas is an ideal starting point from which to build your end product. If, once our data collection and analysis is complete, we feel there are some insights still left to address, we either create a secondary persona or infuse one of the primary ones with additional traits, so that it’s not lost along the way.

At Pomegranate we use Basecamp to store information related to user research for each project, as well as backups in other places. As UX projects are dynamic by nature, along the way we often realise that an additional piece of insight is needed to help inform a specific design problem. Having all our data stored in a safe and accessible place allows us to go back and either refine our personas, or create a new one, for which a need has emerged.

When you can see the world from a user’s perspective, it becomes much easier to make a design choice about which features will provide the most benefit for those personas. Through focusing on a more compact group of personas, rather than trying to please too many people with the same product, you can create a user experience that really connects with those it was designed for.

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To find out how we can help you to define your project’s ideal personas

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