Quick Sheet for persona generation

We all know the benefits of user research and user testing but compiling and cross referencing the outcomes seems to be the biggest pain point for designers, it’s difficult and time consuming, and to be honest we just want to get to designing the best solution for our users. How do we make this a simpler process and quicker while following the best practices and not skipping over crucial steps?

User research should always be approached with an appropriate research question in mind to give the research structure and goal orientated. This question will help to focus the designers on gaining outcomes from the research without getting lost.

Gathering as much information as possible from a variety of users is crucial, but designing for each users specific needs and pain points is not feasible. Cooper states that “the best way to successfully accommodate a variety of users is to design for specific types of individuals with specific needs.”[1] For this we need to gather information about our users from questionnaires, interviews, contextual enquires ect. and then cross reference the outcomes to understand what exactly is needed for each type of user. Persona generation is perfect for understanding the needs and pain points of our users. Personas are a key component in the design process to ensure the user is at the centre of all discussions, designs and thoughts. Although the personal details of the persona may be fictitious the data gathered and used to create the persona is not.[2]

Interviews are often used at this stage of the research process to collect qualitative and attitudinal data through one-on-one discussions based on the users own experience and insights. At least five interviews are recommended for each type of user. This will allow for a detailed understanding of multiple users and to understand common pain points, workflows and needs. Typically interviews could be 30 minutes to an hour long each, run by two designers; one to be the primary interviewer and one to take notes on important points. The interviews are usually recorded and reviewed to extract quotes, follow up on notes but before we know it we have 10–15 hours of recordings to review after our research for three personas! This is always a daunting task to undertake. Many designers have shared their interview note taking strategy that helps them. I’m going to share mine, which I feel really helps the designers to compile the data, cross reference and answer the research question all at once.

The methold involves a ‘Quick Sheet for Persona Generation’ This is a quick sheet for gathering information from a user interview directly into a draft persona which can then be easily used to compare and contrast multiple interviews quickly to generate a fact based persona for use within a project. This sheet can be used by the note-taker during a user interview. It is recommended that at least two designers are present during the interview; one to conduct the interview by asking the questions and giving the user their full attention, the other to observe and take notes on important points. The interview should be recorded to make sure nothing is missed and being able to listen back is great for validating and expanding on points taken and capturing quotes. But what we don’t want to do is have to listen to the full hour-long interview again.

A little bit of preparation is needed before the interview. This sheet should be structured with categories that will answer the overall research question. A typical user research question should question what you wan to know about your users. The questions in the interview should be structured in a conversational manner, and this may not directly map to the research question. As a brief example you may want to uncover the pain points for your user in their current workflow. This would not typically be a question you would ask in the interview but could be a category for note taking. This ‘Quick Sheet’ should not be filled with the interview questions but with the categories that will help you to answer your design research question.

The ‘Quick Sheet’ can be printed and used to take notes with pen and paper or can be used digitally with the designer typing the notes in. The designer assigned to note taking should use this during the interview to take the notes for the important points. Time stamp the notes so you can go back to the exact point in the recording. This helps when you can’t capture everything the interviewee is saying (But makes sure you won’t have to listen to the full hour again). As the sheet is designed not to follow the questions and is more focused on the overall outcomes. You will find yourself moving around the page a lot. Have fun and make it work for you.

This ‘Quick Sheet’ example was created based on an initial user interview at the beginning of a project, where the designers wanted to understand more about their users job role and their current process. This can be used as a starting point for your research. Change it, edit it, make it useful to you and your needs for the project.

Quick Guide for the Quick Sheet
Example blank Persona Quick Sheet

[1] Cooper, A., Reimann, R., & Cronin, D. (2014). About Face 4: The Essentials of Interaction Design. Chichester: John Wiley & Sons.

[2] User Research Basics. (n.d). Retrieved February 26, 2016, from http://www.usability.gov/what-and-why/user-research.html