My first Personas Project - Part 1

My first Personas Project - Part 1


There I was, in a meeting room on the 24th floor of a big tower in Brussels' financial district, looking out over the city centre. But my eyes weren't gazing at the majestic Palace of Justice towering over Brussels, nor I was I looking at the Grand Place and town hall crowning the beating heart of this vibrant city. Not even glancing at the enormous Basilica of Koekelberg in the distance. All my attention was with our head of communications and customer experience.

- "I think we should give him a chance"

Just two days before, I had told my manager that I wanted more challenging work. And that the bank really needed to start working with design personas.

- "Report to me with your work in 20 man days from now"

When the crowd was leaving the meeting room, I had mixed feeling: 20 days was a steep deadline. Especially since I had never done any design personas before. On the other hand, I was really looking forward to dive in, learn and get the job done well.

You can find the slides I used to convince management about design personas here.

The Setup: Effective Planning & Participant recruitment


The first lesson I learned the hard way: always provide a buffer, or at least some conditions to your deadline. It took me more than 7 days to get the required contact details from the internal user database and adapt contracts and scenarios with an external agency to make calls and arrange interviews, something I had clearly underestimated. So, by the time I was doing my first interview, I was already about halfway my deadline. It took me quite some late evenings and working until midnight to get back on track.

Recruiting the right participants

In order NOT to end up with an extremely skewed batch of interviewees with students and unemployed people being over-represented, I did the following:

  • Provided a few preventive constraints to the person fetching the targeted user data (minimum amount of money on account, at least active once in the last 3 months, ...)
  • Provided some extra determining questions to the agency that made the calls. This was in part to select further on variables that weren't available in the user data like having accounts and investments at other banks.
  • Provided targeted incentives: Regular clients were given an incentive of €60 for a one hour interview at our HQ. To make sure busy people with a higher salary would also be involved, wealthier clients were able to make an appointment when it suited them best (not restricted to office hours) and at a location most convenient to them (at home, at their work, at a nearby office, ...). And it worked!!! On top of that, all contacted clients were told they could help us improve our service and work on a new product; this appeared to be a good motivator (new technology, curiosity, being valued and involved).
"A man always has two reasons for doing something, a good one and a real one" - John Pierpont Morgan
  • The right amount of interviews to build personas isn’t really standardized. In the best conditions, 5 or 6 is probably enough. But the more complex your project is (different customer segments, complex domain/industry, number of different personas you end up with, …). The general rule is: “Interview until you don’t learn much more from new interviews” – Mitchel Seaman (If you want to learn more about this, definitely read his article). Now, usually you don’t know up front how many persona’s you’ll end up with (at least, I didn’t). On top of that it’s quite hard to convince management that 10 interviews will be enough and it can get quite impractical to restart the recruitment process when you notice that you’ll need more interviewees. So I went for a round 20, making sure I had at least 2 to 4 people per segment. Since the segments had significant overlaps, this turned out to be exactly the right amount.

Intermezzo: Roles, segments and personas are very different things. The way I make the distinction:

  • You can divided people into segments based on certain measurable variables. Ex: net incomes bigger or smaller than 30K, age group 25 to 35, made more than 3 transactions in the last month, …
  • Roles are defined by the relationship towards your product or service. For example, different roles for a certain type of accounting software would be accountants who intensely use the software for their everyday accounting, auditors who need the software to do annual check-ups and validation and managers who want to get clear overview reports.
  • Personas go deeper into the behaviours, motivations and context of the user. For example, a micro-managing manager that needs to double check every single accounting line probably gets defined by the same persona as the accountant using the software because their behaviour and motivations are quite similar. On the other hand, the manager who only uses the software to print out a monthly report that he can present to his superior clearly falls under different persona. For some examples, you could check this page.

Dealing with data blind spots

The customer data that your company has doesn’t always contain the info or variables that you are looking for. My bank, for example, couldn’t possibly know what type of products or accounts our clients had at other banks. But this was information I needed for deciding who to interview. When I got confronted whit these types of blind spots, I asked myself two consecutive questions:

  • Do I really need this info or will the other available info/variables suffice to get the insights that I want?
  • Is there any quick fix possible to get this info anyway? The techniques I used, were
  • Ask an extra selection question during the calling process. In my case: “do you have investments at other banks?” This is something you want to keep to a minimum though. Two or three extra questions are already a lot.
  • Is there any other info I could use that would give me more or less the same result? Ex. I don’t know which of our clients are also client at other banks, but I do know which of our clients don’t have a checking account at our bank. It is quite safe to assume these people are also client at another bank. However, with these types of workarounds you need to be aware of other biases you’re introducing. In this case, I would end up with a batch of people that probably are more acquainted with a competitor’s banking app than with ours.

I hope this post was of use to you, either instructive or recreational. Feel free to share and be sure to let me know your thoughts (positive or negative) and questions. You can contact me on Linkedin or Twitter.

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