Proto-Persona: Differences and Similarities with Persona


Understanding your users is crucial for creating effective products, and one of the best ways to achieve this is through personas. However, before you can develop detailed personas based on extensive user research, you can start with proto-personas. 

Proto-personas are preliminary user profiles created from existing knowledge and assumptions. They serve as a springboard for early design discussions and decision-making, helping teams establish a basic understanding of their target users.

What Is Proto-Persona?

A proto-persona is a preliminary user profile based on existing knowledge and assumptions. Unlike a full-fledged persona, it isn’t built on extensive user research. Instead, it serves as a springboard for design discussions and early decision-making.

What Is Proto-Persona

Think of it as a foundational block. It helps establish a basic understanding of your target user, their goals, and potential needs. This initial user image can then be refined and fleshed out through user research methods like interviews or surveys later in the design process.

Why Do Proto-Persona?

While they might not be based on in-depth research, proto-personas hold significant value in the initial stages of design. Here’s why:

Why Do Proto-Persona

  • Kickstarting Design Discussions:  Proto-personas act as a catalyst for brainstorming sessions. By having a shared user image, even if it’s a work in progress, design teams can begin to discuss user needs, challenges, and potential solutions.
  • Early Decision-Making:  In the absence of extensive user research, a proto-persona can still guide initial design choices.  By considering the persona’s goals and motivations, designers can make informed decisions about features, functionalities, and the overall user experience.
  • Building Team Alignment:  A proto-persona fosters a shared understanding of the target user among stakeholders and team members. This alignment helps ensure that everyone involved in the design process is focused on creating a product or service that caters to the right audience.

Remember, a proto-persona is a starting point, not the final destination. Its main purpose is to get the conversation flowing and initiate the user-centered design process. As you gather more user data through research methods, you can refine and develop this initial sketch into a more comprehensive persona.

How To Create A Proto-Persona?

Step 1: Gather Initial Data and Insights

Collect any available data from previous projects, user feedback, market research, or analytics. While proto-personas are assumption-based, leveraging existing data can provide valuable context.

Step 2: Collaborative Brainstorming Sessions

Organize workshops or brainstorming sessions where team members can discuss and contribute their understanding of the users. Use techniques like mind mapping or sticky note exercises to capture ideas.

Step 3: Sketching and Defining Key Characteristics

Define the main attributes of the proto-persona, including demographic information (age, gender, occupation), behaviors, goals, needs, and pain points. Focus on the most critical aspects that influence design decisions.

Step 4: Using Templates and Tools

Utilize templates that provide a structured format for capturing the key attributes of the proto-persona. Templates ensure consistency and completeness.

How To Create A Proto-Persona

Consider using digital tools like ProductGo for Jira to create and share proto-personas with the team.

→ Related article: How to build an ideal Customer Persona?

Proto-Persona and Persona Similarities

Proto-personas and traditional personas share several key similarities, making both essential tools in user-centered design.

Both proto-personas and personas aim to represent user archetypes, helping design teams understand and empathize with their target audience. They provide a tangible reference for user needs, goals, and behaviors, ensuring the design process remains user-focused.

Shared attributes and elements of these two types of personas:

  • Demographics: Both include basic demographic information such as age, gender, occupation, and location.
  • Goals and Needs: They highlight the primary goals and needs of the users, guiding design decisions to meet these requirements.
  • Pain Points: Both identify common challenges and pain points that users face, allowing designers to address these issues effectively.

Proto-personas often serve as preliminary versions of fully developed personas. As projects progress and more user data is gathered, proto-personas can be refined and evolved into detailed personas. 

Proto-personas and personas are interconnected tools that work together to provide a comprehensive understanding of users, starting from initial assumptions and evolving through continuous research and validation.

Proto-Persona and Persona Differences

While proto-personas and personas share similarities, they also have distinct differences in their creation, detail, and usage. Here’s a clear comparison:

Aspect Proto-Personas Personas
Data Source Based on assumptions and initial hypotheses Based on extensive user research and data
Detail Level Simplified and broad Detailed and specific
Creation Time Quick, often created in hours or days Time-consuming, requires thorough research
Resource Involvement Low cost and effort High cost and effort
Usage Stage Early stages of the design process Throughout the design and development process
Flexibility Highly flexible, easy to update Less flexible, requires more effort to update
Validation Hypotheses to be tested and validated Validated through user research and feedback

Proto-personas and personas serve different yet complementary roles in the design process. Proto-personas offers a quick and flexible way to start understanding users, while personas provide a more reliable and detailed representation based on comprehensive research. Using both effectively can enhance the overall user experience design process.

→ Build your own proto-personas on Jira easily with the help of ProductGo here!

Final Words

Proto-personas and personas are essential tools in user-centered design, each serving unique purposes at different stages of the design process. Proto-personas provide a quick, flexible way to begin understanding users and making initial design decisions, while personas offer a detailed, research-backed representation of user archetypes. 

By leveraging both proto-personas and personas, design teams can ensure they remain user-focused from the outset and continuously refine their understanding of users through ongoing research. 

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