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To Persona or Not: Are Personas Still Relevant?

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The word persona has been around for a while now. It has been a popular buzzword that plenty of designers have sworn by in the past. However, with the paradigm of the UX world evolving, the industry is beginning to question if a persona really matters any more. With several top enterprises adopting new tools to improve experiences for users, we’re going to discuss how some of them will probably overtake this persona business.

What is a Persona?

what is a persona

In the early 1980s, the concept of persona skyrocketed in the design curriculum because it helped designers understand customers’ needs and predict their behavior in a variety of instances. Especially during the absence of a physical customer. However, nowadays UX researchers take that user data, condense it, and transform them into pictures of ideal customers. These personas are then categorized into different groups based on needs, demographics, and other attributes.

  • Design persona

    Based on field research and real people, these personas focus on user behavior, goals, and challenges. They describe the reasons as to why people do what they do to help designers build a product or service throughout the entire product development process.

  • Proto persona

    Personas based on secondary research and a team’s educated guess of who they should be designing for is a proto persona.

  • Marketing persona

    The focus is on the user’s shopping preferences, buying motives, media habits, and similar attributes which helps teams in creating personas that guide product messaging and marketing strategy.

Personas, at first, seem to be a very good idea. They’re a culmination of needs, challenges, attributes, and decision-making capabilities that motivate designers. The goal of a well-researched persona should be its ability to function as a proxy for the user. However, over time, the UX industry has come to despise the persona-first approach due to its sheer misuse.

Misusing the Concept

misuse

In recent times, personas seem to provide a false sense of security amongst those who don’t like doing user research. Various misconceptions are surrounding the development and usage of personas. These misconceptions lead to further misuse of the personas.

  • Complacent attitude with the existing persona.
  •  Researchers looking for any excuse to get out of talking to real users.
  • Unable to clarify which features need to be prioritized.
  • Time spent developing features that never get used due to a rigid persona in place.
  • Caught up in the technicalities of the attribute associated with the persona.
  • Hiding behind the person so that no new research needs to be conducted.
  • An inability to see value in features that probable users expect from the product.
  • A wide market for the product is narrowed down due to the study of select use cases. 

Emerging Approaches

While we see there are methods to improve personas, there are novel approaches that set contemporary UX experts apart. Two of these exciting new approaches are discussed below.

Job-To-Be-Done

jobs to be done

It is a research framework based on a simple premise. The user “hires” a product for a specific “job” that needs completion. The set of “jobs” a product can accomplish is the comprehensive list of the user’s end goals. The main questions here then are not, “what do the users want?” or “how do the users want it?”, the focus is on “why” do they want or prefer this specific product versus anything else in the market. These whys help generate better and fruitful products with user-friendly features.

When to use a JTBD approach?

1) To discover the user’s intent or what he/she is trying to achieve when they purchase any product or service.

2) Designers can generate several useful solutions, as long as they avoid assumptions about what users want.

3) Conjure/ improve a simple but exciting experience for the users.

JTBD Cons

  • The user research may take superficial tangents and lose depth if not conducted properly.
  • Lack of an ideal user may cause designers to create lackluster products or give up on creating a product at all as it amounts to several “jobs” which it must accomplish.
  • New product ideas are sidelined. Eg: Web conferencing was absent 40 years ago. A user couldn’t possibly “hire” a product that didn’t exist for a “job” which had a “ nullifying physical absence” effect during a meeting. After the product’s invention, the product improved according to the user’s “job” he/she “hired” it for.

JTBD Pros

  • Helps designers align their building process with the user’s intent with the product.
  • Prevents you from building a “new feature” which no user appreciates or notices.
  • It helps improve existing user experience by implementing new features that get the product “hired” for “jobs” more efficiently.

User Persona Spectrum

persona spectrum 2

The User Persona Spectrum framework came into existence after the failure of the ‘artificial average’. An artificial average is a calculation from the available user data. This is usually a false average. This frequently results in a product that is of no use to real users at all.

Meanwhile, the persona spectrum helps design teams to understand the accommodatable motivations and mismatches across a spectrum of users. From permanent to contextual scenarios, the user persona spectrum approach makes it easier for teams to empathize with the user purchase decisions.

Often, a persona gets set in stone. They become rigid, without futuristic goals and purposes in place. These intransigent personas become showpieces that serve no purpose later. User Persona Spectrums, on the other hand, promise flexibility, adaptability, and reintroduce diversity into the design process.

When to use User Persona Spectrum?

1) When you’re looking for flexible personas to work with to create an experience that caters to an audience across a spectrum.

2) The user persona spectrum approach helps to prioritize product upgrades. The product needs to accommodate new research and user needs.

3) When potential product-use trumps rigid personas. This enables more wiggle space in the product design strategy.

User Persona Spectrum Cons

  • An experienced leader should lead the team to maintain clarity. Spectrum can become too broad as discussions may become too vague too fast!
  • Overgeneralizing the persona spectrum is a red alert. Each spectrum has to have a singular relatable attribute which dictates the rest.
  • The messaging, tone and benefits vary from spectrum to spectrum. One needs to be accurate in categorizing correct profiles under one spectrum.

User Persona Spectrum Pros

  • Instead of defining one characteristic, persona spectrums focuses on a plethora of user motivations, contexts, abilities, and circumstances. 
  • A persona spectrum is a representation of human intent and it binds multiple groups by one thread. 
  • It also shows the dips and rise in the graph of how that intent changes according to context.

Hyper-Personalization

hyper personalization

Integration of tools, utilizing AI and ML, into UX which identify deep patterns in user data to locate and understand users’ problems and deliver specific solutions to them is hyper-personalization. Organizations such as  Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, and Disney+ are successful examples of this approach.

While AI stays tuned-in throughout the entire lifecycle of a customer’s interaction, integration of ML in backend development can swiftly enable a digital product to adapt to a user’s niche preferences and browsing patterns. For example, conversational AI can automate workflow for companies who spend a fortune on customer care services. Similarly, ML can help e-commerce platforms adapt to users’ tastes and provide them with hyper-personalized experience naturally.

When to use Hyper-Personalization?

1) When content needs sorting. It must be done according to the likes and dislikes of a user.

2) Some brands want to really ride the ‘customer retention’ pony. They can succeed by giving customers what they need when they need it via recommendations.

3) When a team wants marketing to become easier due to predictability. It works better when you know when he/she will buy the next TV, or which time of the year will the user make specific travel plans or which time of the day is he/she going to browse the platform.

Hyper-Personalization Cons

  • Poorly targeted product filtering can end up distancing customers from products they really want to see/purchase.
  • Personalizing the wrong channels, such as the news. This allows the scope for the spread of propaganda. Comfort prevails over the truth.
  • The “creep” factor is collateral damage. Users may opt for products that do not track history when they notice their search results are triggering similar ads on platforms they visit.

Hyper-Personalization Pros

  • When a product empathizes with each individual’s needs, customer retention is easy.
  • Data drives data. The more time users visit and stay on your platform, the more data the machinery is collecting to keep the traction loop going.
  • A unique, sophisticated, and futuristic framework adopted by all leading platforms. Tailored experiences for all users with the least amount of manual effort, makes hyper-personalization the crown jewel of UX.

Conclusion

Personas have dictated the design paradigm in the past. However, the reign is ending as interactive experiences are evolving and are reflecting in the kind of digital products that are flooding the market. Products like fintech, e-commerce, and entertainment, are all adapting to the user’s context. This they’re doing by employing hyper-personalization. 

While novice teams ponder over the dilemma of “to be or not to be” surrounding their persona,  new approaches and frameworks continue to enter the market. Approaches like hyper-personalization will only continue to dictate the industry standards. People will continue to demand unique experiences, and new technological advancements are going to bring such demands to life. Let us help you arrive at such addictive experiences!