Skip main navigation

New offer! Get 30% off your first 2 months of Unlimited Monthly. Start your subscription for just £35.99 £24.99. New subscribers only T&Cs apply

Find out more

Researching Personas

Watch Alex Cowan to learn about researching personas.
In the last video we talked about thinking of your personas and your problem scenarios as hypothesis areas. So these are never things we’re going to be 100% right about, but if we continue to try and improve them we’re going to be doing vastly better than the alternative, or probably most of our competitors. So here we’re going to look at specifically the persona and how to go out and talk to real users and real customers and ask them questions that quickly and effectively get you answers where you can do a better job of understanding what’s going to be valuable to them.
If you remember, we have this think, see, feel, do that we use to detail out and operationalize our persona and our area of interest. And what we’re focused on is this idea that we’re thinking of a specific persona. We want to be able to answer these questions, for example. Do we know who they are? can we identify them? And we’re going to thread this through rest of our hypothesis that we’re going to anchor ourselves to, to make sure that what we’re doing is valuable.
These questions that you’re seeing here correspond to the template interview guide that’s on the Google Doc template that we’ll look at shortly. And the key thing about doing these interviews is to start with very general questions and narrow towards more specific questions. And the reason why that’s important is, let’s use our other example for a second, enable quiz. And our problem hypothesis there, our principle one, is that interviewing technical talent is important to Helen. But getting screening done, does this candidate have the technical skills that this position requires of them initially? That’s hard for her and that’s important for her.
So if we ask her, hey Helen is it hard to screen engineering candidates to make sure they have the right skills? What do you think she’ll usually probably say, a subject in that area? She’ll almost certainly say yes, because that’s just what subjects will always do when you ask them a leading question. But if we ask her, hey, Helen, what’s hard about interviewing and screening engineering candidates, and then she tells us, oh, well one of the things that I think of first of all to tell you here Is, it’s really hard to figure out if I have the skill sets and whether I should move them downstream to talk to the functional manager.
Well, you know, those two examples, factually, they sort of have the same answer, but one has massive evidentiary value and is really good for us in terms of knowing what’s valuable to this subject, and the other one is probably just us asking them something, them saying yes out of politeness and convenience. So as we move through these, you’ll see that we generally move from general to specific. So, now let’s switch over to our enterprise example HVAC in a hurry. This interview guide is created for Trent the technician. So, hey, we’re just going to ask him this ultra general question first of, what’s it like to be an HVAC technician? How did you decide to do that?
What do you most and least like about the job? And we want to hear what is top of mind for them, and we also want to just get them talking at this point. Now here, as we move in to the blocks here, now you’ve got a little bit more leading question that you can use if you feel you need it. Some subjects, it’s just hard to get them talking. So maybe you put something out there, like hey, I’ve heard dispatch is a real big issue with your day-to-day work. Does that apply to you? Do you think that? And by volunteering a little bit, sometimes that’ll get your less talkative subjects talking more.
Then, okay, we kind of move on to the related thing here of well, tell me about your work being an HVAC technician. Now, you may think, well logically a lot of these questions kind of overlap. They mean the same thing. That is absolutely true. But often A, questions asked in different ways will illicit different answers from the subjects. And, often times, it’s a good idea to come back to something you asked them before because people are not computers, they’re not a search engine, they’re not going to automatically remember right away everything that they might conceivably tell you that’s relevant, because that’s just not the way real people operate.
They’ll very frequently want to come back to something, they’ll remember something relevant to something you asked them before because either it just recalled later for them or maybe they had not quite understood the question they way you thought they would, so a little bit of repetition is okay. But here we’re moving a little bit more towards like hey, what are you specifically do? What would you what would you say is your specific area that you’re really good at as an HVAC technician? Tell me about the last job you did. And getting into these specific examples is really, really important, and it can be tricky.
On the one hand, subjects will often tell you well, you know, that last one, last Tuesday wasn’t really typical. They’ll think everything’s not typical. You should just tell them to go ahead. And at the same time, they think you want some kind of averaged out, generalized answer, which is absolutely not what you want. We want to get specifics, and then see how we can sort of generalize those into generally valuable things. So encourage them to think of an example, even if they think it’s not perfectly representative and show them that you want to hear about the details, which is not normal.
But once they see that you like that, they’ll be happy to tell you, most subjects anyway, all about it. Tell me about the last job you did. And if they are like, I don’t know, they are all kind of the same, go to something like, tell me what you did last Tuesday. Now as we move forward here, now we get in to the think, see, feel, do stuff. So as we discussed earlier the think part is really about the tension between how things are and how they should ideally be done. So here you see question kind of along those lines and some follow ups. Remember, this is an interview guide.
It helps you remember stuff, it helps you think about question formulations that work well. You should absolutely be editing it as you go along and you learn what works, and that’s the hallmark of a good user researcher. And it’s okay if you don’t stick to it exactly because you feel like you covered things. You’re not trying to get statistically comparable data or get everybody to answer a question in exactly the same way. You’re trying to have as normal a conversation as you can with these people while still getting at these areas of importance. What do you see in this area? So, here we’re wondering about what influences their specific point of view on things. Where do they hear about things.
So that’s what this question is. Then this is a really good one. Hey, who do you think is doing it right? In your particular area, who do you think is the most effective HVAC technician out there or who do you think has really been smart about how they manage their career and how do you relate to that. That’s a great way to get at the sort of the see aspects. How do you feel? Now this one is probably one of the harder ones and weirder ones.
Now, you definitely want to do this against the backdrop of a specific example, so it’s perfectly okay to start interweaving this in with this period up here, where maybe you started to talk to them about a specific example. You’ll get more comfortable with that as you practice. So a very typical way to get good information here is to ask them about, tell me about the last time and then ask them, like, what was that like, how did you feel? And they will probably tell you, especially if you’ve been talking for, say, 10 to 20 minutes. And then this is another good one, a little more leading but also fine. What motivates you? What parts of the job are most rewarding?
So here they’ll talk about their motivations, which is one of the most important things for us to line up what’s valuable to them. And then finally, we get at the factual stuff. So in our case we want to know how many jobs do they do a week? How much travel time do you have? How much do you end up driving and then what equipment do you use? Since we’re interested in giving them software that they’re going to use, we want to find out here. We know that the company gives them certain stuff. Hands them a manual when they walk out the door or has this company-issued tablet, but what do they really do?
And this is a thing where getting at those details, like, they may think the fact that they tend to look up vendor manuals for HVAC equipment on their personal iPhone is nothing you would care about, or maybe even they’re not supposed to do that, so they wouldn’t immediately tell you, but It’s those little details that are really going to help you drive to thoughtful valuable solutions. And you’ll learn to get at those with a little bit of practice and showing the subject that you’re interested in these funny little details. Once they get the sense that you want that, they’ll generally volunteer them pretty freely.
As you see here, this first column has the sort of generic form of the question and the second column has some specific examples that you can use to formulate your own questions. When you get into the Google Doc, you may find that you want to take all of this and merge it into a single column. And then use this space to fill in your interview guide. Do whatever you think makes sense. This stuff is only here to help you think about what you want to ask the subject. And in the next video, we’re going to look at how to supplement the interview guide to get at the problem scenarios.
And together, those things will form your interview guide that you want to take out to your subject interviews.

In this video, Alex explains how to go out and talk to real users and customers quickly and effectively to understand what’s going to be valuable to them.

If you have already downloaded or saved a copy of the Venture Design Template, you can access the template interview guide under the section called “Customer Interview Guide” (page 10).

If you need to access the Venture Design Template or download a PDF version of it, click on the Google Doc below or find it under “Downloads” on the bottom of this page.

Venture Design Template

Also, if you would like to read the text version of the material that Alex covers during these videos- please feel free to access it below:

Personas for Design, Development and Growth

This article is from the free online

Getting Started with Agile and Design Thinking

Created by
FutureLearn - Learning For Life

Reach your personal and professional goals

Unlock access to hundreds of expert online courses and degrees from top universities and educators to gain accredited qualifications and professional CV-building certificates.

Join over 18 million learners to launch, switch or build upon your career, all at your own pace, across a wide range of topic areas.

Start Learning now