Designing Effective Personas

Categories: human centred design

For the Youth Voices initiative, we’ve designed and facilitated three human-centred workshops so far, moving towards the ultimate goal of prototyping solutions that improve the well-being of youth whose families have experienced separation and divorce.

After collecting first-hand stories and experiences from young people, many of whom endured the traumatic separation of their parents, our second workshop began to move towards brainstorming innovative solutions for recognizing the voices of the youth. To provide context and foundations to help our multidisciplinary group of participants brainstorm, we created Personas – these would become integral assets for both our second and third workshops.

Before we go further: what is a persona?

A user persona is a representation of the goals and behavior of a hypothesized group of users. In most cases, personas are synthesized from data collected from interviews with users [2]. They are captured in 1–2-page descriptions that include behavior patterns, goals, skills, attitudes, and the environment, with a few fictional personal details to make the persona a realistic character.

To help construct our personas, we consulted with Gordon Ross at Open Road, who organized our first Youth Voices workshop and has been instrumental in ensuring all workshops have been efficiently and effectively facilitated. Gordon was able to share his experience in crafting personas and how to best use them, as well as helping to manage the scope and outcomes of each workshop.

The Lab team spent a full day poring over prior research and stories from the first workshop to find commonalities experienced by youth during separation. While every family and separation is different, we were able to begin grouping traits and creating persona categories. We tried to capture a realistic range of families across BC – from low to higher-income, a variety of number of children (and associated impacts based on older/younger siblings), and the involvement of the justice system during the separation process.

In-process white boarding our Personas – ensuring we incorporate a variety of experiences in separation, all based on our collected research.

We began piecing disparate stories and facts together to create our personas – being sure to include certain experiences that had caused ‘wow’ moments when told to the first group of workshop attendees. With rough outlines for the personas done, we moved on to creating User Journeys.

User Journeys

A typical user journey shows how the experiences of a person interacting with ‘something’ (typically a product or service) as defined key touchpoints. Our User Journeys were supplements to the Personas – helping workshop attendees see more of each youth’s story of their separation. However, unlike most personas, the youth did not know the details of their parents’ journey through separation and divorce, or their parents’ interaction with the justice system. While they are deeply affected by separation and divorce, they’re also usually not informed or aware of the full story, or given an opportunity to provide input or express their voices.

To effectively create these journeys, we had to come up with something different – an approach where we couldn’t tell the whole story, but rather use select quotes from the youth that help communicate how much or little of the situation they were aware of. This factor highlights the importance of the Youth Voices Initiative itself – we are trying to improve the well-being of youth as well as have their voices heard by key system actors. As the journeys would prove, youth are typically left out of the entire process, both by parents and the justice system.

With all this in mind, we used a unique method of expressing the youth’s journey – calling it “In Their Own Words”, we created quotes based on stories from the first workshop.

Writing Journey Frameworks, to help visualize the personas at different stages of parental separation

After an exhaustive design process, we turned the rough whiteboard notes into digital sketches, added some visual flair, and refined the information. We wanted the personas to be used as references during the workshop, so participants could go back to them to provide context and help think through user-centred ideas that could improve youth well-being.

Meet Cody, the first persona we fully fleshed out during our design process

In the workshop setting, creativity flowed. Open-ended discussions and activities helped to generate a ton of ideas and insights. We found that the personas grounded these ideas well – there’s a massive difference between designing for a generic lower-middle-class youth who experienced separation, and Cody, a youth with a full family and personal backstory, wants, needs, and personality traits. Workshop participants found this approach very helpful – we had given them powerful tools to encourage empathy and understanding of the young person’s experience.

David – his story seems the most unbelievable, but sadly is all based on actual events.

In the workshop, we divided participants into three groups, each dedicated to one persona. This persona would form the basis for all of each group’s discussion that day – every idea would have to be thought through in the context of “Would this help David?” or “How would Emily’s family have gone through this process?”

Emily, whose backstory is particularly heartbreaking

In our next post, we’ll show how the personas were used during the workshop and the creative ways participants were able to visualize impactful ideas to help their personas. Stay tuned!