User Personas: The Complete Guide for UX Designers (With Examples)
Imagine this: You land on a beautifully designed webpage. The site’s information is accessible, credible, desirable, findable, valuable, usable, and useful. Congratulations! You just encountered a site designed perfectly for the UX persona — ahem, you! Keep reading to learn all about UX personas and how UX designers can use them to create human-focused, audience-friendly designs.
UX personas play a significant yet conflicting role in the UX design process. Some product developers believe that personas are essential in building a great user experience. Others find them to be nothing more than time-consuming distractions that don’t contribute anything meaningful to the design process.
Since user personas are fictional and abstract, their efficacy depends on how UX designers develop and use them. If they are data-driven and based on real users, personas can make websites 2-5 times easier to navigate and increase website traffic by up to 210%, according to HubSpot.
But if designers create them based on personal assumptions (quick tip: don’t make personal assumptions), they can be a waste of time — hence the conflicting opinions.
So, what exactly is a UX persona? And do they help or hinder the development of successful digital products? Let’s take a closer look at UX personas and how designers use them to create user-focused products.
In This Guide
- What Are User Personas?
- What’s Included In a User Persona?
- User Persona vs. Buyer Personas
- Different Types of User Personas
- User Persona Examples That Drive Results
- How to Create a Successful UX Persona: Step-by-Step Guide
- Learn to Create Effective UX Personas
What Are User Personas?
Before we go any further, it’s time that we address the corgi in the room… what are user personas?
User personas (also called UX personas) are models that represent the different types of users who might interact with a product or service. They usually include information like demographics, behavior patterns, motivations, and goals.
User personas help designers to understand the needs and expectations of their ideal customer. By creating a user persona, designers can ensure they are making decisions that will serve the needs of their target users.
Creating user personas early in the design process helps to prevent design bias by providing a framework for making design decisions, speeding up the overall design process.
When used properly, a good user persona can be an invaluable tool for designing successful products, creating value propositions, and marketing to specific user groups.
What’s Included In a User Persona?
Typically, a UX persona includes:
- The persona’s name
- An avatar (image, stock photo, or illustration)
- Demographic information (location, age, gender, occupation, and anything relevant to your product)
- Job title
- Marital status
- Behavior patterns (how the persona uses your product, their goals, and motivations)
- A quote that sums up the persona’s needs or feelings
If you are creating personas for several different potential customers, it can be helpful to create a template that includes all of the necessary information. Then, create a label for each persona with their name and avatar.
For example, when developing two user personas with distinct spending habits, you might refer to them as “The Spender” and “The Saver.”
User Personas vs. Buyer Personas
You wouldn’t confuse Twitter for LinkedIn, right? If you’re using them for their intended purpose, the two social networks have very different functions in our everyday life. So, why shouldn’t there be a distinction between the terms “user persona” and “buyer persona”?
In the world of marketing and user experience, user persona and buyer persona are sometimes used interchangeably. But there is a crucial distinction between the two.
A user persona is a fictional representation of a group of users with similar characteristics, whereas a buyer persona is a specific type of user persona that focuses on the characteristics of those who are most likely to make a purchase.
Buyer personas are mostly focused on demographics, while user personas encompass a broader range of information.
In other words, all buyer personas are user personas, but not all user personas are buyer personas.
Different Types of User Personas
There are three different types of user personas commonly used in design thinking:
- Lightweight (Proto) Personas: Best for early-stage design when limited data is available.
- Qualitative Personas: Best for when more data is available, and you want to dive deeper into user needs and motivations.
- Statistical (Mixed-Method) Personas: Best for creating complex personas with large amounts of data.
Lightweight (Proto) Personas
Proto personas are slimmed-down versions of ad-hoc personas that don’t require any new research. They document the team’s existing understanding (or best predictions) of who their users are and what they desire.
UX designers can develop proto personas based on existing user data if the organization has any. But in most cases, they’re only based on the team’s theories about who the users might be and what they require.
Created mostly during workshops, these made-up personas are a useful way of defining people’s unstated assumptions about their target audience. They work best for groups using a lean UX methodology or those who would have otherwise avoided using personas altogether.
Of course, the fact that they aren’t informed by genuine data or real people is a major shortcoming. And if the team decides that they have little value, it can have a detrimental halo effect on other UX collaborative efforts — and personas in general.
The ideal approach for most UX teams is to conduct exploratory research (e.g., user interviews, role-based studies) in small sample sizes to generate qualitative data. Segmenting these findings by common characteristics (e.g., shared attitudes, behaviors, and expectations from using the product) can produce reliable quantitative data that designers can use to build personas.
This approach requires more effort than lightweight personas, but it pays off handsomely in design quality and team alignment. Because qualitative personas are based on real data from real users, they help design teams empathize with their target audience more.
They are also much more detailed and nuanced, making them valuable tools for driving strategic, user-centric product decisions. And since they require small sample sizes and limited resources, they’re relatively easy and low-risk to produce.
Statistical (Mixed-Method) Personas
Product teams develop statistical personas based on both quantitative and qualitative research. Since they require more data to build, they are usually reserved for larger organizations with well-established user research functions.
Statistical personas go beyond demographics and include both behavior (e.g., how often they use the product) and attitudinal data (e.g., what they think about using the product). This data is then used to develop predictive models of how users will interact with the product.
The advantage of statistical personas is that they can be used to generate high-level, actionable insights about the end users. For example, UX research might reveal that a certain group of users is more likely to churn than others. The team can then use this information to develop strategies for retaining these users.
Because of how complex they are to create, statistical personas are expensive and labor-intensive to create. They also require a high degree of expertise to develop and interpret. They are not well suited for small design teams or those with limited resources.
Whoah! That was a lot of information! Let’s recap, shall we?
- User personas allow UX designers to create human-focused designs.
- Demographics, motivations, and pain points are all data points that a UX designer may collect to create a user persona.
- User personas are NOT the same as buyer personas.
- There are THREE different types of user personas: lightweight, qualitative, and statistical.
Got it? Good! Let’s continue because this is where the fun begins. Let’s see how you can put all this information to good use!
User Persona Examples That Drive Results
Words < Actions
Here at Skillcrush, we like to walk the walk. That is why we’ve compiled a handful of your favorite, real-life user persona examples. Take a look and let us know how you’d adjust the UX design for the user persona.
Taylor Carter: Airbnb’s User Persona
After conducting five user interviews and researching data on Airbnb users, Sneha Kulkarni, a user interface designer, created a UX persona for Airbnb named “Taylor.”
Source: Sneha Kulkarni Portfolio
Taylor is a 26-year-old Business Analyst who lives in San Francisco. She loves cooking, traveling, and outdoor recreational activities. She also travels internationally three times per year.
While she enjoys using Airbnb, inaccurate images of houses or apartments listed on the site and language barriers between her and potential hosts are pain points for her. She also frequently runs into issues with cancellation policies that are either too strict or not strict enough.
This user persona was created to help the Airbnb team design user-oriented features that improve the experience for users like Taylor. For example, they might work on improving the quality of images listed on the site or developing a way to match potential guests with hosts who speak their language.
Rosie Ortiz and Lucas Mellor: Just Eat’s User Personas
Hanna Soleimanzadeh created two UX persona examples for her sample redesign of the Just Eat platform. She used a statistical approach, sending out an online poll with 50 respondents and talking to five Just Eat users in-person to capture their day-to-day experiences.
She created two separate personas based on her research: Rosie Ortiz and Lucas Mellor.
Source: Hanna Soleimanzadeh Portfolio
Like many of us, Rosie has worked remotely as a web developer since COVID-19 started. She is a single, 27-year-old, who prioritizes health and fitness. She orders takeout 2-3 times weekly but has issues finding pictures of the food she’s ordering. She also can’t find dietary information for each dish. Since her diet is a priority to her, the lack of customization options also bothers her.
Source: Hanna Soleimanzadeh Portfolio
Lucas is a tech-savvy content manager who lives alone and works remotely. He doesn’t like to cook, but he prioritizes his health and fitness. He wants to order takeout that is healthy and affordable, but there is no section on the Just Eat platform that highlights healthy options. And without images or descriptions, finding adequate information about each dish is confusing.
Both of these personas were created to redesign the Just Eat platform to be more user-friendly. By highlighting each persona’s personality traits and motivations, the team can design a platform that is tailored to the pain points of users like Rosie and Lucas.
How to Create a Successful UX Persona: Step-by-Step Guide
Now you didn’t think we’d just give you a few examples and expect you to understand how to create a UX persona, did you?
To create a user persona that actually works, you’ll need more than just a name and a few personality traits. And since user persona creation is an iterative process, you’ll probably change it throughout the design process.
To develop a persona that guides your design process, follow these steps:
1. Decide on your approach.
Not so fast — before you start creating your primary persona, you need to decide which approach you’re going to take!
Most designers should develop qualitative personas, which are based on user interviews, open-ended surveys, and observations. These will give you a more realistic idea of who your users are, what they want, and how they behave.
If you have the time and resources, you can use statistical personas based on large data sets. These can be helpful if you’re working on a redesign of an existing product with a large user base. They are also useful for informing your marketing strategy and creating social media campaigns.
If you don’t have access to user data, you can create a proto persona. This isn’t ideal, but it’s better than nothing.
2. Conduct user research.
If you decide on the qualitative or statistical method, your next step is conducting in-depth research. This process involves:
- Recruiting survey, focus group, or interview participants
- Preparing interview questions and materials
- Conducting interviews or focus groups
If you decide to create a proto persona, you’ll need to hold a workshop (2-4 hours) with your team and key stakeholders. In the workshop, you will need to gather insights and assemble a UX persona template based on your target customer.
3. Analyze your research.
After conducting user research, your main goal is to find commonalities among your participants. These similarities will help you segment your users into different psychographic categories, which will eventually become personas.
Some of the commonalities you might find include:
- Motivations (what drives them to use your product)
- Needs (what they expect to accomplish with your product)
- Challenges (the obstacles they face while using your product)
- Behavioral patterns (how they interact with your product)
- Attitudes (how they feel about your product vs. competitors)
You can use a spreadsheet to keep track of all this information.
4. Bring your user persona to life.
Once you’ve gathered your data and have well-defined segments, you can create a user persona template based on your deeper understanding of the customer journey. Below, this template from Universe User Personas is a great example of what your persona might look like.
Source: Universe User Personas
Remember to include a human picture and a name for your UX persona—this makes them relatable and easier to remember.
5. Share your user personas with the rest of your team.
Throughout the product development and design processes, other team members will need to refer back to your user persona. Make sure everyone on the team has access to the latest version, and keep it up-to-date as you learn more about your users.
If you’re a freelancer, you could add your user persona to your UX design portfolio and use it as a case study for future clients.
Learn to Create Effective UX Personas With Skillcrush
Creating a user persona doesn’t have to be complicated! By following the steps above, you can create a persona that’s realistic, human-centered, and easy to remember.
If you want to supercharge your persona-creating skills, check out our Break Into Tech + Get Hired program. This program will teach you the appropriate tech skills — including UX and UI design — so you feel confident entering the tech industry. Oh, and did we mention our money back guarantee? Yes, you heard that right! If you don’t Get Hired after six months, we’ll give you the full cost of the program ($2499) back. Cool, right? We thought so.
And best of all, you’ll join a community of like-minded Skillcrushin’ designers who are ready to support you along your UX journey.