User Personas: What, Why, and How?

To get started, here’s an analogy to think about. Your cousin’s birthday is coming up soon and you need to buy her a present. The problem is you don’t know her well enough to know what to get her. After thinking for days, you finally decide on buying her a handbag because you remember that she doesn’t have one yet. On the day of her birthday, you give her the handbag. She says thank you, but it’s clear that she doesn’t like it. Turns out, your cousin doesn’t have handbags because she could never fit all her belongings into a handbag and prefers using backpacks. At that point, you realize that the handbag will only be stored at the back of her closet, never to be used.

Designing a software is much like buying a present for someone. If you start creating your software without a good understanding of the user’s wants and needs, it’s almost certain they won’t find your software valuable for them. The best way to gain that understanding is through user personas. It is a powerful tool used to identify users and get a better understanding of their needs. Personas serve as a guideline to creating products and features that the users will actually find useful and enjoyable.

What is a User Persona?

A user persona is a fictional representation of a product’s targeted users. Personas are composed from information such as profile (name, age, occupation), goals, personality, pain points, and motivations. The information given in personas should be able to answer some fundamental questions such as:

  • Who are the users?

Why Create a User Persona?

Build Empathy

One of the benefits that comes with creating and using a persona is that it creates a better sense of empathy. User personas facilitate designers by helping them relate to the users and make better decisions accordingly. By relating to the user’s goals, pain points, and motivations, we can steer clear from potential frustrations and prioritize on actualizing the user’s needs.

Avoid Personal Biases

When ideating the software, sometimes it is easy to get carried away into creating the features and designs that we want and need. In reality, what we want and need aren’t always the same as what the targeted users want and need. These biases can be minimized with user personas. Creating a user persona can help us embody the users and see things from the user’s perspective.

How to Create a User Persona?

Do Your Research

Personas aren’t just based on personal opinions or intuitive guesses. Personas should be based on real life user data and research in order to be good guidelines. User researches can be done via interviews, questionnaires, and observations with participants that reflect your target audiences. During these researches, focus on observing the participant’s mindsets, personalities, and behaviors. The more user data collected, the more realistic the persona can be.

Analyze the Data

After collecting your user data, it’s time to analyze the data. Look for any behavioral patterns or similarities, then group those responses together. Each group will represent each core user that serves as a base for your personas.

Create Your Personas

Once you have your grouped data, use them as a guideline to create your personas. Start bringing you personas to life by describing them in a way that feels realistic based on your data. Projects that aim to reach different types of users may need more than one persona, but don’t go overboard with the number of personas created so you can still keep your focus.

User Persona Example

User persona example: A persona for DocSer

For example, the document above is a persona made for my team’s IT Project’s class project, DocSer. To add context, DocSer is a search engine integrated with Google Drive that returns contextual results. Our persona is an employee that constantly uses Google Drive to store his files. He is practical and likes to get jobs done quickly. One thing that slows his job down is Google Drive’s original search engine that doesn’t show the contents of the files. As a result, he has to open the files one by one to find the file he is actually looking for.

Having this persona as a guideline really helped our team in the designing process for DocSer. It became a lot easier to relate with the targeted users and make better decisions. Following the persona, we wanted to make the design and features practical and accessible. We kept the mockup simple, so users can navigate through the software quickly. We also highlighted the search words so users can easily skim through the search results and find their documents quicker.

A part from the DocSer mockup


Senior computer science student at Universitas Indonesia