Personas Lead to Successful Products

Published 12/12/2018 08:37 AM   |    Updated 05/16/2019 10:16 AM
Successful businesses create successful products and services. Successful products and services stem from employees who generate successful user stories. Successful user stories come from understanding pain points in existing products and features and finding ways to resolve them.

Personas are tools that will help you discover those pain points and generate successful user stories that lead to successful products and services.

This is our third installment in a three-part series where we’re focusing on how personas can be used to generate successful user stories that add value. Our first article, “Understand User Personas, Understand What Users Want,” explored what a persona is, the different types and their history, and briefly introduced the creation process. The second article, “How to Create a Persona and Pitfalls to Avoid,” delved deeper into the creation process and pitfalls to avoid while creating a persona.

Why personas lead to success

Generate empathy.

One of the reasons personas work is because they’re memorable. When researching some examples online, we stumbled upon a persona about Mary. Mary is retired. Every morning she goes mall-walking with her neighbors, and afterward they stop for coffee. On Sundays, Mary cooks dinner for her son and grandkids. She also has two cats named Wilma and Fred.

We no longer remember where we read it, but that’s the point. We only read that persona once, and we still remember all of those details.

When we tell stories and hear stories, we remember them because we can relate to the characters in the story. When we read about Mary, we thought, “I want to be Mary. I want to get coffee with my friends.” And you might relate to Mary too. She might remind you of your grandmother. Mary is a tangible character who’s memorable, and we can connect to her emotionally, as opposed to an abstract generic user.

Emotional connections and empathy for these characters are essential parts of generating successful user stories. Consider this real-life example of empathy driving an innovative solution that delighted patients. An engineer from GE Healthcare was so excited to see the MRI machine he’d been working on that he ran to the hospital to see it in action.

When he got there, he saw a little girl, maybe seven years old, crying on her way to get an MRI. Suddenly, he saw the MRI design from her point of view, as a cold, loud, sterile and scary tube. This insight into the user caused him to innovate and develop the MRI you see in the picture below. He turned it into an adventure that would be calming and fun for kids, allowing patients to get an easier and more accurate scan.

Photo from GE Healthcare, CT Pirate Island Adventure

Provide focus.

Mary and the crying little girl develop focus because the whole team remembers who they are. What happens if you’re not focused on specific user needs and behaviors? You’re developing for “everyone,” and you run the risk of delighting no one.

The GE engineer’s first attempt at the MRI machine was based on a generic patient, “everyone.” It didn’t matter if you were a 300-pound football player or a terrified seven-year-old. And, that design inspired by a generic patient delighted no one. A persona allows you to focus the development team on a specific user’s goals, motivations, behaviors, and impediments or limitations.

Measure effectiveness.

Personas also add value by helping measure effectiveness. Think about the scared little girl getting an MRI. By understanding her motivations and fears, we have a checklist to validate the successfulness of the new MRI design. We can act the part of the scared seven-year-old and assess:

  • Is the room around the machine calming?
  • Is the noise the machine produces part of the adventure?
  • Is the child going to be able to lie still for the test when the technician asks, “Lie real still in the canoe so it doesn’t tip over”?

These are criteria we can use to measure the effectiveness of the machine. Since personas provide points of validation, management is able to avoid investing in features that delight no one and that no one will use.

Help make and defend decisions.

Concentrating on the user guides the team to make the right decisions; a persona illustrates that to the whole team, not just the UX designers. When the entire team remembers the story, relates to the characters, and develops and designs to meet the user’s needs and goals, they truly want to fix the user’s problems.

Remember Mary? Mary’s not going to use our product or service in the morning — that’s when she’s out mall-walking and getting her coffee. Knowing that fact allows the team to prioritize user stories and make design decisions that fit Mary’s behaviors and meets her needs.

Also, when the team is making decisions, they need to look at users as a whole. You may have a persona who’s a savvy 30-year-old and another persona who’s much older and not comfortable with technology. It’s important to remember some users may excel throughout their experience while others falter at the more technical aspects.

Your solution is going to have to work for everyone; it needs not offend the savvy 30-year-old while not overwhelming the uncomfortable older user.

Illustrate how to split stories.

Another decision that’s aided by personas is story splitting. Let’s use the case study of the expense reporting system from our second article in this series. Some high-level stories that would be created for an expense reporting system are:

  • Create expense reports.
  • Modify an expense report.
  • Delete an expense report.
  • View historical reports.

How would you use personas to split these stories? You could split based on the persona who typically uses a mobile device versus the one who uses a desktop. Or, you could split by someone with accessibility issues, such as an older user who can’t see the small font on his or her iPhone. Or what about all of the personas requesting the ability to take a photo and upload their receipts?

With so many of our users requesting that feature, splitting it into its own story or stories ensures the development team will get it right, leading to your product’s success.

Why personas work and their benefits

It’s easier to remember a story about a user in a tangible event rather than a generic user. Relating to users creates emotional connections that provide insights into how the user responds to a predicament — thus, giving the development team a way to measure effectiveness.

Empathizing with the user not only creates effective solutions but also motivates and focuses the development team to help the user. The team can prioritize and design according to how the user actually uses the product rather than how they think the user uses it.

Once all of the above functions together, it leads you to successful business products. And who doesn’t want that?

Focusing on the user’s behaviors, emotions and patterns to lead to amazing products takes diligence and practice. All that time will lead to successful user stories and a united, motivated development team. Motivated employees lead to successful products and services. Successful products and services lead to successful businesses.

Part 3 of the personas article series was authored by Jessica Rensing with contributions from Kris Schroeder.
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This article originally appeared on July 17, 2018.

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