One of the most important steps in planning a new website is understanding who’s going to be using it.

The best way to work this out is to create personas.

What are personas?

A persona is a representation of a type of user of your website.

But unlike vague descriptions that are easy to forget, personas are based on real people, with personalities that outline a user’s background and their reasons for using the website.

Personas make your users come to life.

Why do I need to create personas?

A persona helps everyone working on the project understand who will actually be using the website, and what they want to use it for.

Personas are great to be able to pull out when you’re trying to visualise or explain key design features, and will help you make better decisions.

Because personas are based on real people, it’s easier to relate to - and remember - than just a description of a user type.

How to create a persona

There are a several different ways you can go about creating personas, some of which are very detailed, but for most projects where an unlimited budget isn’t available, the best way to start is by putting together some basic data from what the client already knows about their customers.

How many personas do I need?

I suggest having no more than four or five different personas, but in a way it’s not so much the number that matters, but that you’ve covered all your main user types. If you’ve only got two or three main user types, don’t pad it out for the sake of it.

Start by listing out the users you want or expect to be using the site.

Example: User types for growing Architects aiming to develop more business in the housing and education sectors:

  1. Housing Developer (potential client)
  2. Education Sector Contractor (potential client)
  3. Independent School Bursar (potential client)
  4. Potential employee

What information should each persona contain?

Here’s the template we follow:

  • Name (first name only will do) - this really  helps you visualise the user and makes them come to life. It also helps when referring back to different users later in the project
  • Picture - as long as these are internal documents, you don’t need to worry too much about where they come from, but try and make them realistic. We suggest going to LinkedIn and searching for someone with a similar job title to your user
  • User type (e.g. “Housing Developer”, “Potential employee”)
  • Demographics - Age/Sex/Location
  • Background - a short biography that sums up what they’re like as a person, their circumstances and so on
  • Motivation - why is this person using the website?
  • Goal - what specifically is it they’re trying to achieve?
  • Frustrations - what frustrates them when they use the existing website, or competitors’ sites?
  • Technical ability - how web savvy are they? What do they use the web for, at work and at home?
  • Devices - what devices does this person use?
  • Websites - what other websites or brands does this person use or like?

This isn’t a definitive list - have fun creating your users! How about favourite food, affluence, the car they drive, what they drink etc?

You might want to tweak the data for specific types of projects. What do you want to record for ecommerce users, for instance?

What should a persona look like?

There are no hard-and-fast rules, but it’s best if you have a format that can be printed off one to an A4 sheet, so you can stick them up on a wall if you need to.

It’s also a good idea to keep the layout consistent so you can find specific information easily.

Here’s how ours look:

So yes, personas are important

Whilst it might sound like an unnecessary faff, creating personas is actually one of the more fun parts of the planning process, as well as one of the most useful.

Go on, give it a try…