"Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth." -Oscar Wilde
I don't know how to say it any more plainly than this: Creating personas is important.
The persona is so important because it affects so many other pieces of the project -- discovery, design, QA, and even search engine optimization. A persona is the answer to the question "who are we doing all this work for?". What you know about him or her will inform your choices about how your site will be found, how it will look and how it will function. Budgeting for personas is always time and money well spent.
Components of a Good Persona
Personas can take many different forms and I think the best personas contain at least these three things:
* A persona has a name. Don't confuse personas with "user roles" or categories. "Authenticated User" is not a persona. "Ralph Perez" is. The persona will fit into one of your user roles and he will exhibit other traits and abilities beyond that role.
* A persona has a photo. Your persona is a human- put a face to the name and you'll be better able to empathize with him or her. I use istockphoto.com for inexpensive photo images (I can usually find something for about $1, you can also find photos under the CreativeCommons license at Flickr).
* A persona has an ecology. The demographic data you specify for your persona will also, by inference, provide meta-data about the world he or she lives in. Take the time to desribe this world. Creating a basic story that includes education, family life, work, interests/hobbies, and physical characteristics (including handicaps) adds more dimension to the character and gives us more options when making creative choices. It's those other qualities that may influence his behavior when searching for or using the site.
Personas Have Opinions- Just Ask Them!
In addition to these three pieces you can also optionally include a few questions to ask each persona. I've used this technique and it's really helpful. One set of questions can be general and used for getting a deeper understanding of the persona. These can include things like:
* What are this Ralphs's value words?
* What is this Ralph's life mantra?
* What are Ralph's unspoken questions about this website?
* What does Ralph expect from using this website?
Additionally we also asked some project-specific questions. For example:
* What is the meaning of money to Ralph?
* What are Ralph's challenges around money?
* How does Ralph define value?
* Who else needs buy-in before Ralph will use this payment system?
These questions are valuable because they help us make better decisions around layout and design, can help us verify navigation, and even inform our marketing and SEO efforts." (Continued via CivicActions, RonAkanowicz) [Usability Resources]