In order to animate your understanding of your customers, to give them lives and specific desires, hopes, and dreams, you must craft nuanced, detailed portraits of them. One of the fundamental techniques of HCD is the development of these portraits, referred to as personas. They allow you to take the customer data you have and the observational research you’ve done and create a revelatory story about both the experience you’re offering them now and the new, richer experience you can design. This is where experience architects begin to sketch their building plans and it starts with people first.

You want to create personas both for the people who buy from you today as well as for those who don’t, whom you’re targeting. The research that goes into the accurate portrayal of current and potential aspirational customers and their behavior and goals should be a combination of demographic, psychographic, and ethnographic studies. It must not be guesswork! While not everyone has the time, resources, or budget to pursue each of these types of research in depth, you must make the best effort possible. Even a set of fairly simple interviews with customers can provide a wealth of information to work with.

The big mistake that’s often made in persona development is that they’re based just on supposition about customers. The ...

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