A framework for creating effective personas

Demographic data represents the extrinsic characteristics of a user and helps in defining who you are designing/solving it for. This information defines the primary, secondary and tertiary segments/cohorts of the user groups based on their similarities and patterns that matter to a product or service. For example, it could be a distribution based on Geography, Generations(age groups, below or above a certain age), Gender, Culture, Subject matter expertise/Unique qualities, etc.

Demographic understanding of a persona is better derived from quantitative data and it helps in identifying the right inclusion and exclusion criteria for user segmentation, keeping in mind their shared distinctive characteristics. Together the segments must represent a majority of the user base if not the 100% of the defined product or service.

At the same time, this segmentation should not be confused with the short-term needs/ wants/ scenarios that users face while interacting with the business. (For example, in the travel business, the millennials could be one segment, but the kind of travel partners they choose, be it their friends, their family, or solo cannot be a segment. This is because they are just different scenarios of one of that particular segment rather than a segment in itself). The scenarios are temporary in nature, whereas the segments are more fundamental with long-lasting qualities of a user segment.

How to collect and demographic data

There are two parts to collecting demographic data.

Product Analytics Data (if already available)

Biographic/statistical Data (using surveys)

Every product or business should not follow the same set of questions to understand the demography of its users. However, there could be a set of questions that can be common. The questions should be strictly objective tyes with clear options that have lesser room for any confusion.

When you conduct surveys, it is important to ensure there is enough sample size. I had once incentivized the participants with an attractive lucky draw for the participants which gave me 5 times more response rate than the usual ones without any incentive. Once you know your population size you can calculate the sample size accordingly.

References for creating a demographic questionnaire

A sample questionnaire prepared for a specific survey in the past.
A list of 150 questions.
These are some suggestion but one must prioritize a few most relevant questions that fit the requirement. In the online survey, you may also ask the participants to attach their photographs if it is important for your task.

A few other useful resources

Learn about the survey sample size.
Find a sample size calculator.

Psychographic data represents the intrinsic characteristics based on their attitude and behavior in general and analyzed for the similarities and patterns of the selected user segment.

In the end, there could be more than one clear or even contrasting patterns based on the potential impact on the product or service. This means you would need multiple personas among the same segment of users. (for example, the same traveler segment for a holiday business can have multiple types of buyer personas for its holiday packages, based on their intent, one might be a sure buyer, the other can be window shopper and so on and so forth)

Psychographic data can be understood from the following areas and best understood through personal interactions. This can be done through a semistructured interview done with the user where they mostly use the product or service. It is important to conduct these interviews with empathy, and not intimidate the user with too direct and pointed questions that do not fit the tone of a natural conversation. Remember, most of them might be facing such a situation the first time in their lives.

Every business should make its own custom questionnaire for a semi-structured interview format. The questions should cover the important aspects of the following areas.

Lifestyles and Influences

Opinion and Beliefs

Goals and Frustrations

Other observation notes

You be the judge about selecting the right questions. The idea is not to expect the exact articulated answers from direct questions. One must interpret the answers from a natural conversation that is carefully designed to unearth the nuances of your users’ world which may have a direct or indirect connection with your business. Because sometimes what they say might not be really in sync with what they really believe or do. People do lie in the interviews. If possible, it is best to visit the user once, a few days before you actually show up for the interview (at least a prior phone conversation), this would create a familiarity between the two parties and make the interviewee at ease before the session. This can be done by two people, one interviewer, and an observer/note-taker.

The observation notes could be about the expected and unexpected environment around the user, the distinctive objects/gadgets in the premises and the user’s interaction with them. One can even make notes about the soundscape of the place if that is important, the neighborhood of the place, etc.

One should also consider signing consent/media release forms for avoiding any legal complications later. There are many apps available to send and manage the release/consent forms.

References for creating a psychographic questionnaire

A set of questions based on the empathy map framework
A sample questionnaire prepared for a specific project in the past

This could very well be part of the in-person interviews or recording them in their natural environment during a specific period when you are not interfering in their daily routine. These are basically the media documentation that you analyze later. Often these media files help us to discover the unmet/unarticulated user needs and also steer innovation efforts in your business model. The impact of the decisions they make is often influenced by their immediate environment and ecosystem.

These could be collected through unscripted photographs, videos of the daily environment they are in, things they use, or things they say and how they say it (verbatim), etc. The data collection can also focus on the goals and frustration they face while interacting with the product. Understanding the user using these audiovisual mediums will bring in a great deal of clarity about the exact context they are in. It would certainly help us to build deeper empathy for the user.

Recording stories is a simple task yet powerful, and many often missout on this while creating personas. It is essentially an extension of the context of understanding using a different dimension of documentation. They bring life to a persona and enhance your empathy towards the user. These two steps would collectively help the team to think more from the users’ point of view than assumptions shaped by own experiences.

First, one should collect as many as possible specific or generic instances from concrete observations and not based on assumptions. It could be personal and professional and from anyone(especially someone who is important for the business) who interacts with the user. The best way to collect these observations is to ask a lot of ‘What, Why and How’ questions throughout your user research journey. The idea is to absorb enough data points from real-life so that designers/product managers can predict user actions and reactions for future situations while dealing with your product or service. This can play a critical role in aligning new team members’ intuition on the persona to a good extent.

Creating scenario cards would be a good idea to conduct group activities that would help in kickstarting design sprints/workshops/ brainstorming sessions so that every new member can visualize how the user would use your product or service. Scenario cards are basically many individual cards containing a short specific question derived from a possible real-life scenario in the life of the users, it can be also a fictional situation that the user may come across while interacting with the business. The cards could hold relevant data points on the backside to provide clues. This can be a fun activity where a new team member guesses what the specific persona would do in such situations. The answer can be further discussed with other members of the team who have more data to support or oppose the answer. These discussions could lead to more innovative solutions and ideas.

This is nothing but the final short documentation. The idea is to facilitate knowledge transfer and build quality discussions to get the new members up to speed with the others. There are many templates available on the internet. It doesn’t matter what template you use, what matters is how well it can help you empathize with the user and understand the user segmentation in use. It might be a good idea to represent the persona in the first person. There is no perfect persona, of end to this activity. The more you interact, the more insights you unearth about the user’s world. The important thing to keep in mind that exceptions aren’t examples and always be mindful of the larger parameters of the user segments when creating a particular persona. When you analyze quantitative and qualitative data, there could be conflicts, but you should decide for yourself and prioritize more relevant and reliable information under the present circumstances.

Below given is a template I have used in the past for presenting personas.

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