Master This UX Design Tool to Create Loyal Users

User personae are an established part of the UX toolkit, but predictive personae can take your design work to the next level.
Headshot of author Nick Babich
Nick Babich
Expert Columnist
August 27, 2020
Updated: September 2, 2020
Headshot of author Nick Babich
Nick Babich
Expert Columnist
August 27, 2020
Updated: September 2, 2020

Understanding users is one of the biggest challenges for many product designers. When we know who our users are and what they need, we can design a product that matches their expectations. To get a handle on this, many product designers employ the term “user persona” when they discuss the target audience of their products.

A user persona is an image of the product’s archetypical user whose goals and characteristics represent the needs of a larger group of users. Although the persona is not a real human, we depict them as a specific person rather than an amalgam of a group of people. Designing a product becomes much easier when you can evaluate every product design decision according to the needs and wants of your target user. Below, we will discuss the concept of a predictive user persona and see how this tool can be used to create better user engagement.

 

What Is a Predictive User Persona?

There are two types of user personae: marketing personae and design personae. The first type describes a prospective customer, i.e., a person who might want to purchase your product. By contrast, the second persona describes a user, meaning an existing customer who currently interacts with your product. Predictive personae are a subtype of design personae. Laura Klein, the author of UX for Lean Startups, coined the term “predictive user persona.” Klein mentions a core issue that many user personae have — most tend to be descriptive rather than predictive. Thus, even though a persona describes the type of user, it cannot act as a proxy for the user. Descriptive personae tend to become a fancy poster that a product team proudly hangs on an office wall but rarely uses during product design.

Predictive user personae, on the other hand, play a crucial role in design ideation because they allow product designers to move beyond mere description. Instead, designers can begin to predict the impact of their design decisions on actual users. Here are a few fundamental properties that predictive personae have:

  • They’re based on user research. Predictive personae aren’t real people, but neither are they fictional characters. Every aspect of each persona can be tied to real data gathered during user research. The most accurate predictive personae are distilled from in-depth user interviews and observation of real users. Typically, the more a UX practitioner spends time with a prospective user, the more realistic the persona will be.
  • They reflect people you can find in the wild. Predictive personae reflect the key characteristics of real users, both demographic and behavioral, and can be very helpful when a team wants to hire usability testing participants.
  • They allow product teams to identify specific factors that help a person be a happy user of your product. A predictive persona is useful for defining a product and how a real user will use it.
  • They demonstrate real user patterns. Predictive personae are not reflections of roles within a system. What we call “administrator,” “regular user” or “guest” in products like operating systems are roles within a system, not user personae. A persona can have different roles within a system at different moments in time.  For example, first a persona is a “guest,” but after a successful login, the persona is a “regular user.”

Now that we’ve seen the utility of these personae, let’s look at what goes into building them.

 

Identify Your Users

User research should be the first step in the process of creating personae. Conduct a series of interviews with existing users and learn more about their needs. Focus on knowledge gaps that you have about your users and try to fill them with insights gained during interviews. UX practitioners typically ask questions that help them better understand product preferences or individual needs. Questions like “What apps do you use regularly” or “How much time do you spend online during the day?” are very helpful for that analysis. The exact questions you ask will vary according to the project’s needs, the people being interviewed, and the time constraints that you face. If you don’t have any users yet, conduct market research to find out more about your competitors’.

The goal of this step is to define the users mental model. This model maps out the expectations that users have about interaction with your product.

 

Identify the End Goals of Your Personae

How do you ensure that people will start using your product? After all, you’re not just building it for your own health. You want people to engage with your work!

People will begin to use a product only when they have a particular goal they want to achieve and know that your product can help them with that. Identifying end goals or objectives that a user intends to fulfill by using a product is a crucial part of persona design because it helps the product team to focus on the value that a product provides to end-users. A predictive persona shares demographic or behavioral characteristics of your target user that help you identify the specific things that will make a person want to be a customer.

When you attempt to identify the goals of your persona, you then need to search for patterns in the interviewees response and interaction with a product. At the end of this step, you should have a clear understanding of user needs and be able to separate them from wants.

 

Create Scenarios to Predict User Behavior

Personas become valuable only when they are tied to particular scenarios of interaction. Scenarios give a persona context and help designers understand the primary interaction flows with a product. By tying personas to a specific scenario, designers can begin to see whether the product satisfies the user goal or not.

A technique called storyboarding can be very useful for evaluating user behavior. A storyboard is based on two things: a narrative that describes how a persona would interact with a product and the visualization of this narrative. To write a narrative about interaction with your product, you need to:

  • Provide a basic description of a user use a few sentences to describe a predictive persona that details who they are.
  • State a goal what personae want to achieve.
  • Define the context of use where the persona is when they start using the product.

The goal of storyboarding is to get a general understanding of how users interact with a product in specific situations. The next step is to define key user flows, which are a series of interactions within a product that a user persona does in order to achieve the goal. User flow analysis will help you to identify pain points, which are the most challenging and annoying parts of your product.

 

Prioritize Personae

UX practitioners typically create a few different personae based on research. But not all of these are equally important. With too many personae, the design process can get out of hand because designers will constantly need to evaluate every single product design decision according to the needs of a few different personae. Thats why, if you have more than one persona, it’s good to define the most relevant persona as the primary. Alan Cooper, who has defined various concepts around user personae, advises “design for the primary — accommodate the secondary.” Primary personas typically represent a larger segment of the users or a more commercially valuable segment. Thus, when you design for the primary persona, you increase the chances of creating a commercially successful product.

 

Socialize Your Personae

Socializing personas among team members and stakeholders is critical in making this tool useful. Both team members and stakeholders should see value in this tool and be ready to use it during product development. Product teams can use personae during brainstorming sessions.  They can streamline the ideation process because the team will think about a specific user when discussing product design decisions. Similarly, personae can be good for prototyping. When designers evaluate every product design decision according to the needs and wants of an end-user, they will have a much better chance of creating a more user-centered design.

 

Validate and Refine Personae

Similar to any other design artifact, a persona should be a living, breathing document, and it should be iterated. It’s possible to create a more relevant persona when you have more information about your audience.

Validate your personae using qualitative and quantitative data. Conduct user interviews and use analytics to confirm hypotheses about your users. Its essential to measure NPS (or net promoter score) and CSAT (customer satisfaction score) because both metrics serve as a foundation for customer satisfaction high NPS and CSAT score mean high loyalty. You should also always supplement NPS and CSAT with qualitative research to understand the drivers behind the scores. It’s important to conduct user interviews and behavior analysis to identify areas for improvement and introduce changes in product design accordingly. Any areas of frustration also need to be reflected in persona design.

 

Conclusion

The ultimate goal behind greeting predictive personas is simple — we need to get a deep understanding of users in order to create an exceptional experience for them. Predictive personas put users front and center in the design process and help us practice human-centered design.

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