Persona mapping for software design: how deep should you dig?

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Posted by Brian Borg

'Design is a funny word. Some people think design means how it looks. But of course, if you dig deeper, it’s really how it works.'

Steve Jobs

Persona mapping is the creation of fictional profiles that represent your customers. But just because they're fictional, it doesn't mean they're not realistic.

Like humans, personas have backgrounds. They have experiences, desires, and even pet peeves.

A persona will help you identify how a real human being will use your product, and highlight any issues before it goes into development.

But how deep you dig depends on who will be using it.

Executives need clarity of vision. They want to know who their customers are, but providing them with every minute detail won't make their jobs any easier.

A thoughtful product owner, however, will want to know exactly how the customer is going to use the product and any challenges to overcome. This will require more in-depth persona mapping.

Here are some things to ask yourself when creating personas:

Who is your buyer?

This question is especially important to sales and marketing executives. They want to know who their target base is and why. Specific details they're interested in can include:

  • Profession
  • Annual salary
  • Media platforms used
  • Technologies used
  • Aspirations

A fleshed-out buyer persona will allow your sales and marketing teams to identify with the customer base, create a targeted campaign and generate better leads.

Who is your user?

This isn't necessarily the same as your buyer. Users are the people who will ultimately use your end product or service, and may or may not purchase from you. They're likely to not have the same backgrounds as the buyer, nor the same aspirations. When writing a user persona, consider their:

  • Typical workday
  • Frustrations
  • Pain points

User personas allow product owners to fine-tune the right product development strategy. They need to know what the users will be using their product for, any challenges they could face, and the scenarios that cause them. 

But, a user persona isn't just for the management types in your organization. Personas are a crucial tool for everyone in your development team, at each stage of the buyer's and user's journey. That's why creating personas on a use-case basis is essential.

That said, while your CEO may only require a few pieces of information to effectively fulfill their role, your product owner needs a persona far more detailed to effectively brief the development team and create features that resonate.

No matter how in-depth a persona goes, they all need to include empathy.

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Empathetic design equals great design

By seeking insight into the user's experience, developers can create a better end product. But if the user's background, aspirations, and frustrations aren't considered, the product is likely to fail, sometimes spectacularly.

Let's look at Juicero as an example. If you haven't heard of them, there's a good reason.

This Wi-Fi-enabled juicer earned a massive $120 million from investors back in 2017.

But within six months, the company was no more.

Why? The juicer cost $700, and as though that weren't enough, it could only use its own juice packets at $8 apiece.

Juicero's customer base thought both the juicer and its juice packets were too expensive and, as a result, Juicero was a flop.

Now, let's look at the other end of the scale, when developers excel at empathetic design.

Empathy in practice

The ClearCaptions Blue phone is a desktop phone that captions phone conversations in real-time, with the primary customer base being the hard-of-hearing.

But the ClearCaption development team didn't only think about the challenges a hard-of-hearing person would face. They thought about the seniors, who might not only be experiencing hearing loss, but issues with their eyesight too.

As a result, they developed Amplified Captioning, which adjusted the text to a larger size. They designed the product for ease of use with simplified screens and intuitive interfaces, for users that are not always familiar with modern technology. And they offer live assistance in setting up the product after purchase so nervous folks immediately feel at ease.

ClearCaption is the perfect example of a company that uses empathy in design. They think about the desires and frustrations of their users. They addressed their users' need to communicate effectively, despite multiple obstacles. And, as a result, created a product that bettered their lives.

Persona mapping for excellent software design

The software engineering industry needs to shift how it thinks about the development process. True innovators have already started moving towards the user-centered perspective, abandoning selfish design in favor of an empathetic business model.

Today's leaders in software development recognize that a user's experience can make or break a company.

They see empathy as a strength that every worker should have, no matter where they are on the corporate ladder. They understand the value of persona mapping and implement it at the very beginning of the development process.

It's just one step in the pursuit of quality, but for software that truly resonates, it's indispensable.

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