He’s divorced, owns a Cocker Spaniel, and listens to Duran Duran’s greatest hits on his two-hour commute to work.
Don’t feel too sorry for Bob, he's just a persona.
Do personas work?
Personasare fictional representations of a business’s users, like Bob, they’re imaginary—we make them up.
What’s their job? What relationships do they have? Are they skilled? Which class? Which newspaper do they read? We answer these questions and what we’re left with is Bob the persona—made up of assumptions that will act as a focal point for employees imagining their user.
Simply put, a persona is the person we expect to engage with our product or service, designed so that we can more accurately create a meaningful user experience.
Why avoid personas?
Stereotypical: Often personas are collected stereotypes. People tend to be vastly more complex. Personas are surface-level observations. They are often viewed as rigid, claustrophobic, and creatively limiting.
Unreliable: Without a high level of research, personas can be unreliable.
Dated: Stereotypes and trends change. Using Bob again as our example, thoughts on divorce in 2022 are vastly different than they were in 1992.
Resource draining: Accurate personas based on extensive research require resources, and what’s accurate today, could be inaccurate tomorrow.
We can’t rely on a collective of assumptions that we’ve named to accurately convey user needs.
Do archetypes work?
The ruler, the creator, the sage, the innocent, the explorer, the rebel, the hero, the wizard, the jester, the everyman, the lover, the caregiver. Recognise some of these? If you’ve read a book or taken a trip to the cinema recently, you should. Archetypes are often used to define character journeys within narrative. Writers have used archetypes for decades, (The Hero with a Thousand Faces, Joseph Campbell, 1949.)
How does this work in UX?
We borrow this approach to help designers empathise with the user. By constructing our own archetypes relevant to whatever industry we’re operating within.
We can use multiple archetypes to describe the same user, and because they are flexible, we can more accurately draw from the fluidity of human nature.
The main difference between archetypes and personas is that archetypes are modelled on behaviour.
They embrace the idea that people evolve. Archetypes consider not just who the user is—but who they’d like to be.
Universal stories: Archetypes use universal stories which we all recognise. These stories themselves are based on eternal human desires, wants, needs, which makes them a more reliable basis from which to draw inspiration.
Creative imagination: They are fluid, whereas personas are static. This fluidity allows room for creativity.
Embody a journey: Archetypes consider user evolution, as they’re (by definition) an arc—a journey.
By adopting a wider perception, by getting to the core of why someone might be engaging with our product, we can more accurately strike the right chord with them
Archetypes aren’t without their limitations, but they do consider a very important point—the same person can have multiple needs.
So, what’s the next steps in UX design? How do we move away from personas, archetypes, and all the guesswork? How do we cut the assumptions and find the truth?
Data transcends personas and archetypes
Hypothesise, test, and iterate!
We should understand our customers at a deeper, more robust level. By utilising data-centric UX design, we can make decisions grounded in fact, respond with agility, and make sure that our approach is based on real people and real decision-making.
How can we use data in UX?
There are several tried and tested methods that we can use:
In Spotify’s early days, their creative team assumed that users would prefer their app's design to have a lighter theme, however, after running a number of A/B tests, the data revealed that the majority of users preferred the darker theme, leading to Spotify’s unique look and feel today.
These are visual representations of a user’s journey throughout your product or service. A user flow means we can take in and easily digest the experience from start to finish. Early on in the design process, we should test our hypothesis with real, desired users, and make sure our platform is working as intended!
These allow us to identify content that users are engaging with, as well as highlighting and evaluating problem areas within our user journey. Typically, this behaviour is tracked via martech tools such as google analytics or mixpanel.
Whatever tracking tools you decide to use, it’s good practice to constantly review the flow of your users' journey (whether website or app.) Ask yourself: Are my users on the path originally intended? Or are they doing something completely different?
Implementing this review process is the key to improvement, because data allows us to lay bare our original assumptions. We find the right questions to ask and let the data answer. We can then mould our original archetypes with data-informed decisions— forging a more robust UX hypothesis based on what our users show us.
Ultimately, data allows us to design UX using the scientific method:
This is the new basis for meaningful progress within UX. A time-efficient, cost-effective alternative to personas, because modern UX isn’t about being right from the off-set, it’s about staying open to the many possibilities presented by the data.
And once we have that insight? We need to be quick, and agile enough to follow. To adjust in the right direction.
And if we can do that? We’ll learn to build experiences that are truly user-first.