Personas and roles are user modeling approaches that are applied in the early stages of system development or redesign. They drive the design decision and allows programmers and designers to place everyday user needs at the forefront of their system development journey in a user-centered design approach.
Personas and user roles help improve the quality of user experience when working with products that require a significant amount of user interaction. But there is a distinct difference between technology personas vs. roles. What then exactly is a persona? What are user roles in system development? And, how does persona differ from user roles?
Let’s see how these two distinct, yet often confused, user models fit in a holistic user-centered design process and how you can leverage them to identify valuable product features.
Technology Personas Vs. Roles – The Most Relevant Way to Describe Users
In software development, a user role describes the relationship between a user type and a software tool. It is generally the user’s responsibility when using a system or the specific behavior of a user who is participating in a business process. Think of roles as the umbrella, homogeneous constructs of the users of a particular system. For instance, in an accounting system, you can have roles such as accountant, cashier, and so forth.
However, by merely using roles, system developers, designers, and testers do not have sufficient information to conclusively make critical UX decisions that would make the software more user-centric, and more appealing to its target users.
This lack of understanding of the user community has led to the need for teams to move beyond role-based requirements and focus more on subsets of the system users. User roles can be refined further by creating “user stand-ins,” known as personas. By using personas, developers and designers can move closer to the needs and preferences of the user in a more profound manner than they would by merely relying on user roles.
In product development, user personas are an archetype of a fictitious user that represents a specific group of your typical everyday users. First introduced by Alan Cooper, personas help the development team to clearly understand the context in which the ideal customer interacts with a software/system and helps guide the design decision process.
Ideally, personas provide team members with a name, a face, and a description for each user role. By using personas, you’re typically personalizing the user roles, and by so doing, you end up creating a lasting impression on the entire team. Through personas, team members can ask questions about the users.
The Benefits of Persona Development
Persona development has several benefits, including:
- They help team members have a consistent understanding of the user group.
- They provide stakeholders with an opportunity to discuss the critical features of a system redesign.
- Personas help designers to develop user-centric products that have functions and features that the market already demands.
- A persona helps to create more empathy and a better understanding of the person that will be using the end product. This way, the developers can design the product with the actual user needs in mind.
- Personas can help predict the needs, behaviors, and possible reactions of the users to the product.
What Makes Up a Well-Defined Persona?
Once you’ve identified user roles that are relevant to your product, you’ll need to create personas for each. A well-defined persona should ideally take into consideration the needs, goals, and observed behaviors of your target audience. This will influence the features and design elements you choose for your system.
The user persona should encompass all the critical details about your ideal user and should be presented in a memorable way that everyone in the team can identify with and understand. It should contain four critical pieces of information.
1. The header
The header aid in improving memorability and creating a connection between the design team and the user. The header should include:
- A fictional name
- An image, avatar or a stock photo
- A vivid description/quote that best describes the persona as it relates to the product.
2. Demographic Profile
Unlike the name and image, which might be fictitious, the demographic profile includes factual details about the ideal user. The demographic profile includes:
- Personal background: Age, gender, education, ethnicity, persona group, and family status
- Professional background: Occupation, work experience, and income level.
- User environment. It represents the social, physical, and technological context of the user. It answers questions like: What devices do the user have? Do they interact with other people? How do they spend their time?
- Psychographics: Attitudes, motivations, interests, and user pain points.
3. End Goal(s)
End goals help answer the questions: What problems or needs will the product solution to the user? What are the motivating factors that inspire the user’s actions?
This is a narrative that describes how the ideal user would interact with your product in real-life to achieve their end goals. It should explain the when, the where, and the how.
For a truly successful user-centered design approach, system development teams should use personas to provide simple descriptions of key user roles. While a distinct difference exists in technology personas vs. roles, design teams should use the two user-centered design tools throughout the project to decide and evaluate the functionality of their end product. This way, they can deliver a useful and usable solution to their target market.