Personas are archetypes built to identify a real users profile, including needs, wants and expectations in order to design the best possible experience for them. Personas are used in many fields (marketing, UCD) and are usually based on previous research. This can be a very expensive and depending on the budget it might not be possible. Instead of eliminating personas, lean Ux approaches use a similar tool: proto-personas.
In his article Using Proto-Personas for Executive Alignment, Jeff Gothelf explains proto-personas as a variant of the typical persona, with the important difference that they are not initially the result of user research. Instead, they originate from brainstorming workshops where company participants try to encapsulate the organization’s beliefs (based on their domain expertise and gut feeling) about who is using their product or service and what is motivating them to do so.
Proto-personas give an organization a starting point from which to begin evaluating their products and to create some early design hypotheses. This hypothetical proto-personas will be used as a guide and verified in later research. They will prove useful in the recruiting process for usability studies and will be updated and adjusted as research progresses and unveils characteristics of real customers which conflict with the hypothetical proto-persona.
How should a proto-persona look like? There is no standard template available and the layouts vary in content and focus. When creating a proto-persona you should include enough information to bring the fictional persona to life. Describe real people with backgrounds, goals and values. Don’t focus too much on demographics. Rather include motivations, expectations, needs and how they’re likely to use your product:
Probably the most important reason to create personas is to get a common understanding of the final user so that a coherent strategy can be defined that will result in a product/service that is user oriented and meet the user goals. Consideration of the customer and how management decisions affect them should be a constant part of the executive outlook but often get lost. By brainstorming on proto-personas the focus shifts towards the customer and ensures that the customers point of view is taken in consideration.