Personas & designing for real people

Sandra Meek
10th January '14

In all of our projects, the more we understand about the audience the better the outcome - and producing personas is one of the core tasks when getting a project off the ground.

When you think about it, people are fascinating. We can be shocking, ingenious, supportive, frustrating and inspiring - sometimes all in the space of 24 hours! As a species we’re constantly evolving and adapting and that’s what makes people interesting.

We consider ourselves very fortunate at Pretty that people are at the centre of all the work we do. After all - a digital product isn’t produced by a faceless company for another faceless company - it’s produced by real designers and developers for real clients and real users.

Which is why understanding the audience is key. It’s one of the first questions we ask during the creative brief and is the foundation of all our work. The more we understand about the audience the better the outcome - and producing personas is one of the core tasks when getting a project off the ground.

“People are at the centre of all the work we do.”

What are personas?

A persona is a fictional descriptive profile of a person, used to represent the varying types of user who may interact with what we produce. We take the outline target audience and turn them into living breathing people who you can understand quickly and easily.

A persona is generally made up of characteristics such as:

  • Name
  • Age
  • Gender
  • What they do for a living
  • Their family set up
  • Where they live and the environment (e.g type of house)
  • Education
  • Their likes, and dislikes
  • Their aspirations
  • Their attitudes
  • How they use technology

To get to this level of detail we start by gleaning information from our clients and their employees and then develop and flesh out their characteristics and nuances - much like a novel writer would when crafting a story.

We then get visual. We use photography (avoiding stock imagery where possible) to illustrate not only who they are but their living and working environments, favourite objects, friends and family. This is not just a fun part of the process for us - it really helps us cement the people in our minds and get to know them fully. After all, it’s easier to understand someone when you can put a face to a name.

How personas are applied to projects…

Although personas are a work of fiction, and these people don’t really exist, they are as close as possible to the real target audience. This really helps our designers to quickly form views and perspectives of those users during the design phase of a project. Our designers can make decisions quickly when they know how that decision will impact “Suzie” or how “James” will react to it.

And just like people, our personas evolve…

Although a lot of the groundwork with personas is done upfront at the start of a project, they naturally change over time - and as we gather more data and statistics, conduct testing and interviews with real users, and gain insight from the client we continue to flesh them out and refer back to them.

Why personas are invaluable

Time and time again, the personas produced are the secret to our success at Pretty. Take our client Prospectus for instance - a business who on the face of it have a large target audience, encompassing all ages, sexes, education and outlooks. By creating distinct personas we were able to segment the end users, get clarity about who they are and what they need and then focus on user experience throughout the project.

If we hadn’t done that groundwork, it would have been difficult to build a successful digital product for them. As it turns out that thanks to “Caitlin”, “Hardeep” and “Lawrence” - the Prospectus personas - we didn’t fall short of our goal and we can rest easy knowing we’ve delivered a product that adds real value to Prospectus’ business.