Personas – helping you design goal-directed content

It can be easy to lose focus for whom we are creating content as we get wrapped up in our day-to-day work. This is where personas are useful.

A persona is a model of a group of users presented as a single character (archetype). They are based on research (observation and interviews) and help you to empathise with your users by understanding their motivations, scenarios and goals.

Personas are reminders that we need to be strategic in providing content that is useful to our users to help them achieve their goals.

We are not our users, we need to design for them and not ourselves.

Selecting personas

So how many personas do you need? It depends on the outcomes of your research to identify key user types.

If you design for everyone, you make no individuals happy. Following research data, you begin to segment your users into common user types. It is important to avoid designing for edge cases and to keep a clear focus.

You need to prioritise your audiences based on the strategic purpose of your service. Don’t try and please everyone, focus on those significant user types, those which get the most value from your service.

By designing for these personas we can satisfy the needs of thousands of potential prospects who have similar characteristics and goals.

For personas to be useful and memorable, you need a manageable selection based on your research. Keep the set small, the more focussed the better.

“Ideally, you should have only the minimum number of personas required to illustrate key goals and behaviour patterns. There’s no magic number, but if you’re designing a consumer product and you have a dozen personas, then you may be making distinctions that aren’t very important.”
Kim Goodwin, author of Designing for the Digital Age from Perfecting your Personas

Transport for London has a good selection – a population of over 8 million is represented by 5 key personas:

Channel 4 represent their millions of viewers by 8 personas:

Our personas

Based on user-testing and stakeholder feedback we’ve created six personas. We’re taking an iterative approach and will continue to refine and shape them as we learn more:

  • Helen – the prospective undergraduate
  • Judith – the prospective undergraduate parent
  • Sophie – the prospective research postgraduate
  • Ryan – the current undergraduate (and prospective postgraduate)
  • Liu – the prospective international postgraduate
  • Simon – the academic




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