5 Ways to Ensure Personas will Build Consensus

Meg Davis  

December 14, 2011

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One of the primary motivations for creating personas is building consensus internally within the design and product teams about customer goals and motivations. So why do personas go wrong so often? Why do people not use the personas that you labored to create from your research? Here are 5 tips to ensure the personas you create will indeed facilitate consensus.

  1. Goldilocks Principle: Use not too much, not too little, just the right amount of detail to empathize with while avoiding conflict. Persona descriptions should be dense with details from user research. However, the details need some rounding out with characteristics and traits that will help make the persona seem like a real person that the design team could get to know. The trick is restraining the use of extraneous characteristics and traits that will either distract or create conflict within the design team. Stick to the facts and sprinkle in some stories and characteristics that you saw in your user research.
  2. There is no “I” in team: Develop personas as a team. You need everyone’s buy-in for personas to be effective. The best way to build this buy-in is to involve everyone in the creation process of the personas. Gather the troops around a whiteboard and start mapping out the qualitative, quantitative, and colloquial knowledge about customers. This is a great time to also fill in gaps in team member’s knowledge about the customer research that has been done.
  3. Use a 360-degree view: Think about the personas from different perspectives that the business has about the customer. Personas will be better accepted by stakeholders outside of the design and product teams if they resonate with how stakeholders view their customers. I’m not implying that personas should reflect back stakeholders’ current views of customers; rather, they should tell the story of the customer interacting with the stakeholder’s business unit. For example, the Support team will be more likely to use a persona if they see the persona description talks about how the persona struggled with the online user forum. Make the persona relevant to stakeholders.
  4. Average isn’t good enough: Avoid filling personas in with average demographic content. While quantitative research gives you hard numbers about behavior, qualitative research helps you understand why that behavior happens. Don’t base personas solely off of the numbers. When creating personas, use dichotic analysis to map out the range of values and behaviors seen in research. Then make sure the personas represent that range. If your personas are just the market research with a little bit of character, people will feel as if there’s nothing new and interesting to digest about customers and will de-value the personas.
  5. The power of one: Keep the focus of the personas narrow. Personas take a lot of work, and it can be tempting to try to use the same persona for different websites or products. However, trying to encompass all of the company’s products or offerings with one set of personas can dilute the effectiveness of the personas. Keep the persona narrow and tailored to the relevant design and product teams, and your team members will also stay focused on the website or product at hand.