Proto-Personas VS Persona’s

Quickly — What’s the difference?

I have just finished reading Leah Buley’s book — User Experience Team Of One . This is where I was introduced to the term proto-persona.

If anyone had asked me on the street “What is a proto-persona?” I would have probably have told them it was justa posh way of saying persona. However I would have been incorrect!

At university we were taught about many UX research methodologies and we spent a lot time using persona’s in our projects. However we were never taught about proto-persona’s. Now two years since university, obviously a lot has changed in the UX world and I am spending some time catching up on the newer UX methodologies.

Firstly for those who know nothing about persona’s — in simple terms, a persona is just a fictional character.

This fictional character will represent your target audience and is typically created from the results of research.

Persona’s have been around in the UX world for a long time whereas (well at least for me) proto-persona’s are relatively new.

I like to think if proto-persona’s was a software system — it would just be the LITE version of persona’s. So let’s do a quick dive into the differences:

Key Characteristics Of Persona’s:

  • Detailed
  • Smooth finish. Well thought out — Often used in presentations throughout the UX process.

You collect data about your current or potential target user base. This could be from survey’s, interviews, focus groups or various other methods.

From the data you will be able to build a hypothesis about your customers. This hypothesis will be used to generate your persona.

You then build your fictional character (persona). You personalize the character by giving it a name, picture, job, interests/hobbies. You describe the persona — what their attitudes, goals and behaviours are.

You then place your persona in scenarios in which they would need to use your product.

Key characteristics of Proto-Persona’s:

  • Ad-hoc.
  • Low fidelity.

You create a proto-persona by firstly gathering various different stakeholders who are familar with your product in a room ( no more than 12).

You ask either individuals or small groups to generate persona’s for the product in a certain period of time ( say 15 mins ).

They then present the persona’s back to the group. We take the ideas and try to find commonalities between them to create a few key proto-persona’s while de-prioritizing the less relevant persona’s.

What wins do persona’s bring?

  • Visualise/Humanise your user research
  • Keeping everyone on the same page, in understanding how the product would be used by customers.
  • A reference point throughout the design process.

What wins do proto-persona’s potentially bring?

  • Gain buy in for user centred design
  • Help stakeholders and team members be more empathetic to end users needs.

Does a persona and a proto-persona look different?

A proto-persona will be more like a sketch. It is essentially coming from a brain storming session and is mainly used to align stakeholders views. You could simply represent the image of the customer as a doodle and that would be enough for this situation.

Basic Proto-Persona For Coffee Ordering App

A persona will look more finished. They tend to grab your attention. They will usually be developed on computer software from as basic as powerpoint to as complex as photoshop. A persona can be used throughout the UX process to convey idea’s about the customer quickly. Especially useful in presentations to senior execs in the company who want a quick snapshot of user research results.

Basic Persona For Coffee Ordering App

Are there disadvantages to using persona’s?

I just want to put a quick note to state that persona’s should be used in combination with other user experience research methods.

It is very easy to create idealised or biased views of your customer or target market. If you do this and use persona’s as your sole method of checking you are meeting your customer expectations. You will be in for a shock when you release the product.

Persona’s are a good way of summarising common traits of your target market but it is very unlikely your customer will perform actions or think exactly like your persona. Hence why you need to incorporate various different research methods throughout the design process.

Software Developer. Technology & Business Nerd. Passionate About Product & UX - All views are my own.

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