In order to design products and services that resonate, we (as designers) must first identify who it is that we are designing for. Customer personas are extremely useful tools for thinking about your target customers and their subsequent customer journeys. Personas help provide context and direction surrounding the activities to be completed by the customer, and give you a frame of reference when mapping out your customer journey.

A strong customer persona should include:

  • Key characteristics like name, age, and demographic
  • Frequent tasks or activities
  • Pain points
  • Goals
  • Motivations
  • Wants
  • Needs
  • Desires
  • Information surrounding how this particular group thinks about the industry
  • Any analogous competitive experiences that exist in the space; and
  • Any forms of technology/devices that might be involved in this specific persona’s customer journey

In order to develop an initial persona, you should begin by generating assumptions about your target customers. These assumptions should be based on any data, insights, or findings that you have collected during the initial discovery (research) phase of the design process. During the initial discovery phase, be sure to thoroughly observe your target customers and conduct a number of first-person customer interviews so that you can generate comprehensive user stories and profiles. By creating a fictional persona that represents a given customer, you can help to ground your initial assumptions in real user profiles.

How Many Personas Should I Generate?

The number of personas you generate will vary from situation to situation, however I strongly advise that you limit the number of personas to five. I personally aim to generate around 3-5 personas for every design project. By creating 3-5 personas, you can effectively think about a wide variety of customers you will serve in the future without getting too granular or specific about any one type of individual. If you create more than five personas, you might want take a step back and see if any of your personas are encapsulated in another persona (you could have an unnecessary duplicate or overlapping persona characteristics that could be eliminated).

Here are some examples of personas I have created for a previous project:

Note that in the examples above I listed some of my personas’ favorite brands. In this particular instance, it was important to identify their favorite brands in order to better understand the analogous products and services that resonated with our personas.

Personas Can Be Modified

During the design process, you might find that your initial assumptions and personas are incorrect. You may discover that one of your original personas needs to be modified to better reflect the insights and observations you have noted along the way, or you might decide that you need to eliminate a persona altogether. This is a perfectly normal part of the design process and should not be a source of fear or anxiety! New information gives way to new insights, and your initial assumptions might change along the way.

Robust customer personas help to reveal the true characteristics, wants, needs, and desires of your customers. They provide designers with a frame of reference for approaching a given problem, and can help to identify potential pain points (and eventually positive solutions/customer experiences) within your customer journey. By generating personas, you can effectively design products and services that resonate with your customers on a deeper level, and this skill should be a critical tool in any designer’s toolkit.

This article was originally published on LinkedIn.