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Get to Know Your Website's Users with UX Personas

Published: June 23, 2022       Updated: May 18, 2024

11 min read

Why has Amazon been so enormously successful? Obviously, there are numerous reasons, including Jeff Bezos' visionary leadership, their constant innovation, and their willingness to take calculated risks.

In addition to these things, an argument could be made that a large part of Amazon's success is due to their relentless push to make both their website and mobile app as user-friendly as possible.

They have invested hundreds of millions of dollars in giving their users a superior experience and removing as much friction as possible. Whether it's 1-click checkout or reordering products through Alexa, Amazon is relentlessly user-centric.

And while you probably won't be the next Amazon, you can borrow a page from their web design handbook. You also can be user-centric in your web design.

How? By creating UX personas.

What Is A UX Persona?

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A UX persona, also known as a user persona, is a fictional, generalized representation of a particular user of your website or product. Although the UX personas are fictional, they are based on real data and user research. They are not guesses about how a user behaves, nor are they based on how you hope a user acts. Rather, they are shaped by concrete information.

UX personas are similar to buyer personas in that both are designed to envision the singular people that comprise a brand's target audiences. The main difference is that buyer personas are designed for the needs of marketers, while UX personas are meant to help website and product designers better empathize with users. 

UX personas help you design for your users by informing you about their needs, goals, and frustrations. They help you see things from the perspective of your users and relate to them on a more personal level. Armed with this information, you can do web design in such a way that it provides a superior user experience across the board.

The information contained in a persona is usually put into a visual document, which includes the persona’s name, demographics, photo, and short descriptions of their goals, needs, and pain points. The document may also contain information about the persona's behavioral patterns in relationship to web design.

It's important to note that personas are not static. They will change and evolve over time as your users' needs, goals, and desires change. It's important to periodically review and update your personas so that they reflect your current users.

Additionally, personas are not meant to cover every possible user in your audience. Rather, they are meant to represent the most important segments of your users. It's better to have a few well-developed personas than a large number of poorly developed ones.

Why Do User Personas Matter In Web Design?

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There are a number of reasons why it's valuable to create UX personas and incorporate them into your web design process.

1. Better understanding of your audience

By understanding your users' needs, goals, and pain points, you can design a website that is better suited to their needs and provides them with an excellent user experience. A better user experience will keep people coming back to your site, which can lead to a higher retention rate, more customer loyalty, and a higher Customer Lifetime Value.

2. Increased empathy for your users

It's easy to get bogged down in the details of web design and lose sight of the actual people who will be using your website. Personas help you remember that there are real people behind the data and that your design decisions will have a real impact on their lives. When you have a strong understanding of who your users are and what they want, it's easier to put yourself in their shoes and design for them.

3. Better decision making

The data you gather to create personas can also help you make better design decisions. When you have a clear understanding of your users and their needs, you can make informed decisions about what features to include on your site, what content to create, and how to structure your site. Additionally, personas can help prevent scope creep by providing guidance on which features are most important to your users.

4. Speak in ways that resonate with users

Your website should be designed in a way that resonates with your users and speaks to their needs. When you're in the weeds of running your business day in and day out, it's easy to speak in industry jargon that doesn't connect with users. By using personas, you can create content and design that resonates with your audience on a deeper level.

5. Create continuity across multiple departments

When it comes to website design, there are typically multiple departments involved, including design, copywriting, backend development, and more. With so many stakeholders involved, there is the potential for the design process to become disjointed.

Personas can help create continuity across departments by providing a common language and understanding of your users. By aligning all departments around your users' needs, you can create a more cohesive and user-friendly website.

6. Keep the design process user-centered

Often, the design process becomes all about the designer and their vision for the website. Or it can become a battle of opinions, with management wanting one thing, marketing wanting another, and design fighting for their vision.

When you have UX personas in place, it helps to keep the design process rooted in the user's perspective. This not only results in a better user experience, but also prevents your site from becoming overly cluttered with features that particular stakeholders wanted but users didn't.

How To Create Effective Personas

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There are numerous ways to create personas and numerous factors that shape the process, such as budget, type of project, data available for collection, etc. And while there is no one size fits all process, there are some general principles that should guide the process:

  • Personas are based on real user behavior and data, not guesses about how a type of user thinks and behaves.
  • Personas reflect how users currently act, not how they will act at some point in the future.
  • Personas are based on how users interact with specific items (pages on a specific site, elements on a specific page, etc.), not broad generalizations.

With these principles in mind, here are six steps to follow to create effective personas.

1. Collect user information through quantitative and qualitative research

The first step in creating personas is to gather data about your users. This can be done through both quantitative and qualitative research methods. Ideally, data should be gathered through both methods to ensure that you have a full, balanced picture. The more data you are able to collect, the more accurate your personas will be.

Quantitative research methods include surveys, Google Analytics data, and other types of user data that can be measured and analyzed. Qualitative research methods include interviews, focus groups, and user testing.

Both types of research are important in understanding your users. Quantitative data can provide insights into what users are doing, while qualitative data can provide insights into why they're doing it.

2. Organize and analyze the data

Once you have collected data, it needs to be organized and analyzed. As you examine the collected data, look for differences between types of users, recurring behavioral patterns, common pain points, etc. This will help you to start to identify different types of users and begin to understand both their behavior and what motivates that behavior.

There are numerous ways to organize and assess quantitative and qualitative data. Quantitative data can be visualized with graphs and charts. This will help you begin to identify trends and patterns that will help shape your personas.

Qualitative data can be analyzed in a number of ways, including:

  • Grouping user feedback and comments by common themes, such as pain points, goals, etc.
  • Using a word frequency counter to identify common words and phrases in user feedback (Google "word frequency counter" and you'll be given numerous options)
  • Analyzing how users talk about using different aspects of the website. Do they use positive or negative language? What words and phrases do they use to describe their experience?

3. Determine how many UX personas you will create

Once you have a good understanding of your users, it's time to determine how many personas you will create. The general rule of thumb is that you should have between 1 - 4 personas, but the number of personas you create can vary depending on the complexity of your website and the type of data you have collected.

Based on the data, you need to identify your most important user groups. Make sure that each group is distinct and doesn't muddy the lines with the other groups. The factors you use to differentiate between user groups are your choice - just make sure that they separate users into clearly different groups.

Each group should have one primary persona that represents the majority of users in that group. If necessary, you can create secondary personas that encompass specific subsections of the larger group.

4. Create your personas

After gathering all the data, analyzing it, and determining the number of personas you need, it's time to actually build out each persona. Your goal is to take the data you've collected and humanize it. To put a "face" on each of your primary users and see things through their eyes.

At a minimum, each persona should contain the following information:

  • Name - Give each of your personas a fictitious name that helps to capture their personality. Words like "user" or "customer" are cold and impersonal. Giving each persona a name reminds you that there are real people behind all the data.
  • Image - Use either a digital illustration or royalty-free stock photo to add a face to the name you've given the persona. This may seem unnecessary, but it's one more way to help you empathize with your users.
  • Demographics - A brief description of each persona, including things like their age, gender, job, location, education, background, income, and any other relevant data.
  • Pain points - What are the main challenges this persona faces when using websites in general and your website in particular? What scenarios cause them to throw up their hands in frustration and immediately exit your website?
  • Goals - What are the goals this persona wants to achieve when using your website? What are they trying to do? Why do they want to achieve these things?
  • Behavior - How does this persona interact with your website? What are their preferred methods of navigating the site and finding information? What are their click patterns?
  • Quote - What quote or phrase captures and sums up what this persona needs or wants most when it comes to interacting with your website?

Though it may be tempting, avoid using real names or details of people you know or who participated in the research phase. This has the potential to bias you when you build out your personas.

5. Create a visual document for each persona

Once you've hashed out the details for each persona, it's time to create a visual document for each one. This can be as simple or complex as you want, but it should contain all of the key information from each persona in an easy-to-digest, visual format.

This is the document you will refer back to again and again when making design decisions. It should help everyone keep users top-of-mind as they work.

If you have multiple personas, make sure that the design is consistent. While every element doesn't have to be identical, the overall layout and design should make it easy to quickly find the most important information for each persona.

Using Personas To Guide Web Design

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We've already discussed this to some degree, but let's go a bit deeper on using personas to guide your web design.

To put it bluntly, the personas you've created should be the primary driver of the web design decisions you make. Yes, there will be other factors, like budget, allocated time, etc. But as much as possible, your goal is to design websites that meet the needs of those who will use them most.

Software designer and programmer Alan Cooper put it this way:

Personas are the single most powerful design tool that we use. They are the foundation for all subsequent goal-directed design. Personas allow us to see the scope and nature of the design problem.

In other words, personas give you the big picture of what your users need and help guide you in the design process toward meeting those needs.

So, for example, if you are designing a website and you've determined that Persona A and Persona B will be the primary users of the site, the goal should be creating a site that is highly tailored to the needs and desires of those personas.

To do this, you'll need to take into account things like:

  • What type of content will appeal most to these personas?
  • How can the navigation be structured in a way that makes sense for these users?
  • What functionality do these users need and how can it be delivered in the most user-friendly way possible?
  • What are the main pain points for these users and how can they be addressed?

Obviously, there is no such thing as a totally perfect design. You'll always need to make compromises. However, if you start with the personas as your guide, you're much more likely to end up with a website that is successful and satisfying for your users.

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