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The comprehensive guide to proto personas in UX design

Megan Cattley
Strategist

Personas are a tool commonly used in UX design. They contain information on a target audience such as their goals and motivations, challenges, actions wants and needs. A proto persona is a type of persona. Proto personas contain similar types of information to personas, but unlike traditional personas, proto personas are based on information gathered from stakeholders and secondary research. Where creating traditional personas is not possible (e.g. budget, time or user access constraints) proto-personas still play a useful role in the design process. They support design and product teams to better understand their users and ensure user-centric decision-making.

The step-by-step process of creating proto personas

Gathering insights

The first, critical step in creating proto personas is gathering insights. First, review any existing information on your target audiences, this could be analysing past research conducted, as well as seeing what insights can be derived from sources such as Google Analytics, customer service tickets or online reviews. We then suggest conducting an internal workshop. The workshop should involve people from across the organisation who have direct engagement or understanding of your users. In this workshop you should first outline your audience groups, this may be based on how your organisation already segments user types such as for marketing purposes or you may need to conduct this activity from scratch. You should ideally focus on three up to a max of six personas. Once this is decided, you should then discuss and document information known about your audience group. Utilising an online whiteboarding tool such as Miro is useful for this exercise. You will also find many persona templates such as ours here to make this process easier.

Creating the proto-persona

Now that you have captured information on your audiences, it is time to synthesise and analyse this to create your final personas. Review all of the post-it notes you have captured, remove any duplication and re-write as clear and concise bullet points under each section header. Once all of your sections are complete, use the information gathered to write the description of your persona and create a quote reflecting something they may say related to your product or service. The final step is to visualise your persona, simple steps such as changing the colours and font type to match your organisation help to bring this to life and feel like a finished document.

Refining the proto-personas

The final step is to review your final persona document with your stakeholder team and anyone else with user engagement to sense check your personas resonate and make any refinements where necessary. Once this is complete, circulate the final document within your organisation and make it easily accessible so everyone can have an aligned understanding.

 

Advantages of implementing proto personas in design projects

Creating and utilising proto-personas can have several important benefits to the UX design process.

  • Enhancing user-centric design: Having a set of personas can help act as another member of the team. Helping to guide decisions based on user wants and needs and aim to resolve any present challenges to create a more user-centric design.
  • Speeding up the design and feedback loop: Being able to consistently refer back to the proto-personas can help speed up the design process and reflect on user requirements.
  • Reducing costs and resources in the initial design phase: A key reason why proto personas are often created instead of personas is to save time and resources on conducting research, although we always recommend that research is conducted with users as a follow-up. But utilising the proto personas can also help reduce resources and costs in other ways. By designing with users in mind this can help avoid costly changes down the line – learn more about how usability testing also supports this here.

 

Key differences between proto personas and traditional user personas

Proto personas may contain similar information to traditional personas but there are key differences in the process. Traditional personas should be based on in-depth research with users such as interviews or focus groups.

We always recommend that direct customer research is utilised to ensure valid findings and ensure insights aren’t skewed by internal perspectives. However, proto personas are a very valuable proxy if time, budget or access to users is not currently available. Any type of persona should be treated as a living document meaning they should be updated and reviewed over time, therefore as and when time, budget or users are accessible the proto-personas can be used as a valuable foundation to build on and add additional insights.

For more information on personas, take a look at our comprehensive workbook ‘The fundamentals of personas

 

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