Ask five designers how to create a persona, and you will get five different answers. Still, most agree that there are several core elements that make up a strong user persona. Depending on your product or service, most user personas should contain information about the user's motivations, needs, behaviors, and goals, along with demographic information. Perhaps the most important element of a persona is that they should be based on research (i.e. you can't just make up a user based on what you believe to be true). Your persona's characteristics need to come from interviews, focus groups, contextual interviews, and other research methods.
After reviewing several articles on medium written by designers with strong opinions, strongly held, and reviewing books and documents recommended by the Health for America design curriculum, the fellows and I set out to create our own personas. We conducted 1-on-1 interviews with patients and providers, focus groups, and recollected lessons learned from our two week simulation of living with type 2 diabetes. We then brainstormed all of the features (motivations, behaviors, needs, and goals) that we learned during our research and started to identify patterns. From those patterns emerged three different profiles, which we attributed to three different personas: Tammy, Gunther, and Janet.
Our user personas were an excellent learning tool. Because diabetes touches the lives of so many people, it is tempting to try to design a solution with everyone in mind. As a result we created three different personas, and we tried to design for all three. To no surprise it was an extremely difficult feat that led to misaligned goals and feature creep. To solve the problem we identified a "primary persona", Janet, to guide our design process.
The importance of strong user personas cannot be overstated. Personas put the "human" in human centered-design by actually putting a name and face to your user. It helped us take the amorphous, ambiguous blob of information we collected during the research phase of the fellowship and helped us define core user for our product. The process of creating personas forced us to reflect, empathize and learn about our users. It ultimately helped us bring to light and discuss different beliefs we had about our core user and allowed us to realign our focus and vision. Our personas also played a role in settling disputes and building cohesion among the team, by simply asking, "What would Janet do?"