A proto-persona is tool companies use to determine who their customers are. It is used in the early stages of UX and design projects. You can think of it as a composite image of your target audience. These prototypes are based on the information you have about your customers without doing deep research and testing them regularly. That's why it is easily accessible to every company.
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What is a proto-persona?
A proto-persona is a fictional character representing a user type that might similarly use a site, brand, or product. They can be created at an early stage of the design process, often used to help inspire teams who have little or no research on their users.
Proto-personas are often constructed during a workshop that takes around 2-4 hours and involves the team, key stakeholders, or clients. Usually, each participant gets a simple template and creates 2–5 proto-personas of their own. All workshop members then share their proto-personas with the group, discuss them, and create the final set of 3-6 proto-personas combined and edited from previous work.
How to create it?
A good proto-persona should contain the following information:
- photos of users who fit the pattern (you can use stock photos)
- occupation/education level/income level
- goals/objectives (use their own words when possible)
Some questions you may ask together with your team to find out who is your ideal customer that will be represented by proto-persona:
- Who is my target audience?
- What does my target audience like?
- How does my target audience behave?
- Why does my target audience use products like mine?
- How can I satisfy customers' needs?
You can create a proto-persona by listing several different assumptions about the ideal user or customer, such as "they love music," "they enjoy cooking," and "they always choose the quickest way to get something done."
Once you've compiled your list, ask yourself how each assumption could affect your design decisions. What would happen if you made every decision from that assumption? If you're going to design a website for people who like to listen to music while they cook, what kind of music would it play in the background? How would that affect your site's layout? As you make further assumptions about this user or customer (for example, "they like to cook with their friends") and ask yourself how it affects your design decisions, add those new assumptions to the list.
Proto-personas are useful to investors, marketers, designers, and developers because they help answer questions about their users: for whom, why, and how they will use certain products or services.
What is the difference between persona and proto-persona?
It's important to mention that a proto-persona should not be confused with a persona (in other words, it's not a real person). A Persona is based on the data, facts, and research, whereas proto-personas are generated from assumptions and hypotheses. So, in general, creating proto-personas is a more straightforward method than making personas since they don't require a detailed study of users.
Proto-personas are especially useful for startups and small companies that may have a hard time gathering enough information about their users and customers to create a complete persona but still want to make decisions based on their data.
Why create proto-personas?
- It is useful when you are in the early stages of UX and design projects when little information is available about the target audience.
- It allows designers to focus their research efforts on specific types of users instead of trying to find out about all potential users at once
- They help companies determine what features they need to appeal to their target audience.
- It allows designers to create personas that include less common users (e.g., people with disabilities) since they do not need to spend time gathering information from these groups and can rely solely on their assumptions.
- It helps to define product requirements and make them more specific.
Cons of proto-persona
Unlike personas, proto personas aren't used to make significant design or product decisions but rather to guide conversations about the product or experience. They can also be inaccurate if the data used to make them is not good or up-to-date. They can also become outdated quickly if the team doesn't update hem as necessary.
Proto-personas can be changed later when more information about users becomes available, or personas can even replace them. Companies sometimes use them in conjunction with personas to ensure that product teams stay focused.
Nielsen Lene, Personas - User Focused Design, London 2013
Mulder Steve, Yaar Ziv, The User is Always Right. A Practical Guide to Creating and Using Personas for the Web, Berkeley 2007
Lin Hsin-Jou, Persona versus proto-persona, UX Planet, https://uxplanet.org/persona-versus-proto-persona-9e26e831ed51
Laubheimer Page, 3 Persona Types: Lightweight, Qualitative, and Statistical, Nielsen Norman Group, https://www.nngroup.com/articles/persona-types/
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