Putting Yourself in Your Users’ Shoes

Photo by William Iven on Unsplash

Say you want to build an app to help teachers execute online learning efficiently. Of course, you could guess what features they might need and how they would expect the app to be. But as someone working in tech, do you really know what motivates them, what their goals are, and what challenges they face on a daily basis? Probably not. So how do we ensure that the app we’re making would actually help our target users? The answer is by creating personas — fictional characters representing the kinds of users you’d expect to use your product. That’s right; to do that, you have to be able to put yourself in your users’ shoes.

Before building them, it’s nice to understand the three types of personas.

Proto Personas

These are the personas that are based on the existing knowledge that the team has, or their best guesses. You don’t need to conduct a research to build a proto persona. Because of this, proto personas can often be inaccurate, since they are only based on assumptions that the team members have about the users.

Qualitative Personas

Qualitative personas are made after conducting an exploratory user research, usually interviewing users. It’s often the best approach for most teams, since they accurately represent the users. The downside, however, is that because they’re only based on a small subset of the target users, they may not include users with unique characteristics or overrepresent outliers.

Statistical Personas

The first step in building statistical personas is also to conduct qualitative research. What makes them different from qualitative personas is that the qualitative data is used to create a survey to collect quantitative data about the major characteristics. Then use a statistical clustering method (e.g. K-means, DBSCAN) to divide the users into different categories. All these steps allow you to be confident about the accuracy of your personas, including what percentage of the target users each persona represents. However, this approach is expensive and time-consuming, not to mention that it needs expertise in statistical analysis.

In order for personas to be useful for the design process, there are important elements that should be included.


How detailed this section should be actually depends on your business case, but generally you want to include age, gender, income, job, industry, and location.


These are what the persona wants to achieve by using your product. They can also be things that motivates them, e.g. saving money and time.

Frustrations / Pain Points

Frustrations are the challenges the persona faces. More importantly, these are the problems that can be solved by using your product.


Make sure your personas have names and pictures to allow the team to visualise them as real people that are going to use your product.

The first and arguably most important thing in building personas is conducting user research. This is where you conduct one-on-one interviews with your target users. Ask questions that would describe them personally and professionally.

  • What are the age and gender of this person?
  • What is this person’s educational background?
  • What field is this person working on?
  • How many hours does this person work in a day?

You might also want to ask technical questions.

  • What applications does this person use regularly?
  • What devices does this person use the most?

Don’t forget to ask them questions that would help them describe their motivation.

  • What motivates this person?
  • What are this person’s needs?
  • What are this person’s most significant challenges?

You now have the data. The next step is to analyse it. Look for specific characteristics and classify the users based on their behaviours.

In this stage, you should have several personas, but choose one as your primary focus. You can also categorise them into primary, secondary, and complementary groups. Next, you’ll have to describe your personas. Make your personas realistic by giving them fictional names and personal details. It’s essential to include details like education and work background, motivations, values, goals, limitations, needs, and expectations.

You also need to prepare scenarios for your personas. Place each persona in a number of situations where they have problems to solve. Tell a story about how a persona would use the product.

Last but not least, you should keep updating your personas regularly. The world keeps changing, and the information included in the personas might become irrelevant. You might also want to add new personas or remove outdated ones.

Keep in mind that you should have the support and acceptance of the stakeholders of your product in the process of building your personas. After all, one of the desired benefits of this process is for the stakeholders to evaluate new product ideas.

Now let’s look an example. Imagine we want to build a language learning app, so we conduct a research on our target users — people who want to learn foreign languages. In the research, make sure to find out what their goals and frustrations are. Goals are basically what the users expect to gain by using a product. Frustrations are “pain points”, what they want to avoid. These are particularly important for the product design, because we want our product to meet the needs of our users. Specifically, we want our product to help the users reach their goals and avoid their frustrations.

Say that we’ve done the research and we found out that there are three main points that most of the users care about: being able to learn languages easily from their mobile phones, being able to keep track of their progress, and improving their conversational skills. We also learned that they avoid conventional language courses because they’re too expensive, they don’t like reading textbooks, and they tend to forget new vocabularies. Based on these facts, we then create an imaginary person that we’ll call Jessica Santoso, a busy undergraduate college student, just like the majority of our target users.

Based on this imaginary user, Jessica, we can then design our product to meet her needs and behaviours.

First, since she doesn’t have much free time and wants to learn from her mobile phone, we will develop a mobile app as our MVP. This allows the users to learn quickly anywhere.

We also learnt that she wants to keep track of her learning progress. Therefore, we can make a backlog to add a “track progress” feature. It can be how many hours the users have spent learning, or how much their skills have improved since the first time they used the app.

Then, because she wants to improve her conversational skills, we can add another feature that lets the users speak with a teacher, or with other fellow learners.

We should also take her frustrations into account. Because she finds language courses too expensive, we should make the subscribe fee affordable, or even free for the basic features. We should also avoid including lengthy articles as learning sources, because our persona doesn’t like boring textbooks. Lastly, to help the users avoid forgetting vocabularies, we can remind them to review newly learned vocabularies by using flashcards.

In the Software Project (PPL) course that I’m taking this term, my teammates and I are developing an agriculture app for farmers and customers. Here is one of the personas that our product owner has created.

The farmer persona

We take the personas into account during the design process of our product. Since a large portion of the target users might not be familiar enough with technology, we tried to make the UI as simple and intuitive as possible. We also let farmers sign up using their phone numbers to ensure that they can sign up without the hassle of creating new email addresses.

Farmers sign up page

Based on the farmer persona, farmers don’t have access to farming knowledge as much as they should. We aim to change this by creating a platform where they can get relevant expertise from experts and ask questions.

Pembinaan, one of IGRI’s features

Creating personas is a critical aspect of the software development process. It benefits not only product owners to create features but also designers in deciding how to design the UI, copywriters in writing relevant content based on the audience, and developers in deciding which approaches to take. I hope you found this helpful, and thank you for reading!

This post is written as an assignment for the PPL course at the Faculty of Computer Science, UI.

CS Student