Everything You Need to Know About Creating and Applying User Personas, from UX Expert Shai Granot

User personas are essential to creating products or services that solve real people’s problems in a way that they’d actually pay money for. And creating them is not as easy as imagining who might use your product and putting some information on a piece of paper. Labs mentor Shai Granot, UX expert, held a Labs session all about user personas—how you create them, why you create them, and how you apply them within your startup.

What user personas are

“Personas are realistic and reliable representations of your key audience segments,” Granot says. “You take your main target audience, break them into target segments, and you try to find a very good, realistic representation for each segment.”

Why personas matter

There are several critical reasons why you need accurate personas for your product’s or service’s users. “But the most important is to give everyone in the company focus and synchronize them on who your users are,” Granot says. “Think about a typical company. You have a CEO, an R&D team, a marketing team, etc., and unless you create user personas, each one of them will have a different user in mind when they think about your company’s user. That can happen for many reasons, but one is that when people think about the user, they usually think about themselves. So the whole idea is to focus everyone and give them a good idea if who the user is.”

What a persona looks like

Personas aren’t just a though exercise—they’re things you actually need to create and put down on paper. “You want the name of the person, a photo of them, and a quote that represents how they relate to your product or service,” Granot says. “You also want their age, occupation, education, and family background. Next are their daily activities and how they would use the product, what frustrates them as it relates to the problem your product or service is solving, and what’s helpful for them. The idea is to start from the background information and move to the product.”

Your personas should only be one page each. “You want your team to get the idea of each person in a glance without having to do a lot of reading,” Granot says. “And remember that personas shouldn’t be based on educated guesses. You should go out and meet people in each user segment and create personas based on what you learn about them.”

It’s equally important to remember that you’re creating personas based on who your users are, not who you wish they were. “You have to accept the users as they are,” Granot says. “You don’t try to change them or judge them. You take them as they are and you have to be totally honest about them, whether they’re not that smart or they’re stingy.”

Here's a basic example:

Prioritize your personas

With rare exceptions, you’re going to have more than one persona. And you need to prioritize them so you can make smart product decisions. “Ask yourself how much each persona will use the system and how important they are for you,” Granot says. “If you don’t prioritize, you’ll focus and put resources into less important personas. If you only had $100 to spend on your personas, how would you split it?”

How you apply then within your startup

Personas are “used in all phases of development, from planning to execution and later on in testing,” Granot says. “You use them to evaluate open issues, and to prioritize users and products from the eyes of the target audience.”

Once you’ve planned your product with your user personas at the center, “when you do the execution, you look at the user interface from the point of view of the target audience,” Granot says. “You also look at the graphical and user experience from the target audience. Everything should be looked at from the point of view of the user—content, images, text. If your personas include elderly people, for example, you need large fonts. And when you test your product, you’re also doing it from the personas’ point of view. It’s called expert review, where you evaluate the software as though you’re a user. You’re no longer looking at it as yourself—you look at it as though you’re the end user.”

The AlgoValue example

Granot shares an example of a startup he consults for and how they went about creating their personas, and why creating them was incredibly beneficial. “They’re called AlgoValue, and they have an algorithm to evaluate shares and options. Their goal is to simplify valuation calculations so they can be done in two to three hours instead of two to three weeks. And they had to figure out who to sell to: the startup, so they can do it by themselves, or the accounting or valuation firms, so they can do it faster for the startups.”

“After they created their personas, they realized that the startup CFO doesn’t have the time or energy to learn how to use the software, and he or she doesn’t want to take the risk of using it and being accountable to the startup board for using it,” Granot says. “So AlgoValue understood that their target should be the accounting and valuation firms. But now they had to figure out who in those firms to market to: the partner, the mid-level manager, or the junior associate who actually does the work? With personas, they understood that the marketing cannot be done just to the partner or the mid-level manager— it needs to be done to both of them. The junior associate is the one who’ll actually be using it, but they’re too low level to have any decision making power within the firm. And they see that both the partner and the mid-level manager need to be at the kickoff meeting.”

Key mistakes to avoid

Failing to validate your personas

“It is ok to have assumptions and educated guesses regarding your key audience segments,” Granot says. “It is also ok to start with these assumptions. However, it is not ok to stay with these unvalidated assumptions and create your product based on them.”

Having stereotype personas

“During the workshop I noticed entrepreneurs created their ‘perfect user’. The problem this persona was too perfect, reaching a level of being unrealistic,” Granot says. “Stereotype personas do not gain trust and empathy like realistic and reliable representations.”

Assuming the user is the same person as you

“One mistake startup founders often make is assuming that they are the user,” Granot says. “That happens because founders often start from a personal pain point. But they don’t understand that the minute they take that problem and create a startup to solve it, they become different from their users, because their users are not founders or entrepreneurs. Founders often come from a technical background, too, and they assume that everybody has a good technical background. But that’s not always true. They can also make the mistake of thinking their users are their moms or their friends, who’ll be accepting of the product or very similar to them, and again, that’s false thinking.”

Having too few or too many personas

“Ideally you have between three and seven personas,” Granot says. “I’ve seen cases where startups have 12 or 15 personas and it defeats the idea of getting focused, and the differences between that number of personas won’t be clear, so it doesn’t help the startup very much.” On the other hand, “having too few personas could mean that you consolidated two or three important target segments into one and you’re overlooking important differences between them.”

Not getting input on your personas

Don’t create your personas in a vacuum. “Share them with other people within the company, because everyone needs to see them and agree on them,” Granot says. “People are often afraid of discussion and not being able to agree so they keep the personas to themselves, but then you end up with the same problem of not creating them at all where everyone has a different target user in mind.”

"When you create your startup share the personas with other co-founders, so you’ll be aligned," Granot says. "When you hire your first employees use the personas for their onboarding process. It's an easy way to explain to them who you are targeting and what  your company’s direction is. If you have employees who are in touch with your users, sharing the personas is a good to validate them."

Learn more about product development for early-stage startups and learn more about mentor Shai Granot here.

This post is based on content from a WeWork Labs programming session.

Interested in connecting directly with this mentor? Ask your Labs Manager for help.

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