Less decoration — more actionable data. A bonus GIF included.

Sometimes I think we, designers, have forgotten what personas are and what this method was initially created for. I often hear from colleagues that personas are out-of-date, and such a trending framework as jobs-to-be-done is much better. However, there are no bad or good instruments. When used right, any tool can be fruitful.

Such a beautiful design deliverable, isn’t it? — Not really.

A persona is a vivid, concentrated image of people: their motives, behaviors, and goals. If you decorate it with shadows, gradients, and font styles, you risk adding information that only looks important. Remove the fanciness — and you’ll be able to mercilessly edit all the bullshit out.

“Businessmen” stock photos, “quotes” from inspirational communities on Facebook, funny persona names, marketing and SEO buzzwords (income, marital status, interests, brands) — all these pieces of information usually don’t help to design a good service or product. Personas aren’t marketing segments; they are behavior-based models.

Too much demography makes designers think stereotypically and attribute wrong traits to people (so-called representativeness heuristic bias). As a result, you make assumptions about people’s emotions and thoughts instead of real-life behaviors, which you can observe — not just guess.

A frequently overlooked element is a story, which describes the way of thinking and background. If there is no story, a persona lacks tangibility and realism. People aren’t robots and often behave under the influence of unrelated circumstances. A story describes aspects that influence the usage of a product or service, which you are designing.

How many tasks and needs have you written? Three? Four? Try finding more, and don’t forget about the fears and wants people might have mentioned during the interviews. This will help to understand not only business concerns but also personal perspectives.

If you are designing, for example, a software product, try listing the solutions a persona already uses and note how pleasant that experience was. This section gives insights into people’s habits, things that don’t need fixing at all, and niches for something new.

Finally, the fun part! When helpful content is ready, it’s time to put emphases into the document and make it better understandable for the team. For instance, highlight the research findings, which people repeated frequently or described in more detail compared to other topics.

Look at the picture below and ask yourself: which one helps to make a design decision or to come up with a design hypothesis?

For me, the second one definitely works better. For example, the size of Adam’s team and their current software environment helps to choose familiar interaction patterns. The “Fears” and “Wants” sections are clues to the value proposition of a solution.

As promised at the beginning, here is everything in a single GIF animation.