February 3, 2020

User personas explained with cats

What is a user persona? What is a good user persona? Do you need a user persona? There are a lot of definitions and templates available online, but the explanation I so far found working best is this...

Imagine you decided to sell cat trees. You buyer persona will be a human. However, your buyer will most likely be considering the needs of the actual user: the cat.

Do we really need a user persona for a cat? Don't all cats just need a place to scratch, jump, and hide? Not exactly. Big and heavy cats (like maine coons or Norwegian forest cats) need sturdy trees with large areas for stretching and lounging. Young kittens and older cats need trees that do not require jumping over big distances. Finally, cats in multi-cat households need trees with enough space for playing and hiding for at least two to three cats.

Let's not forget the secondary user of the cat tree: the human. The human will need to transport, put together, and maintain the tree. They need a product that is easy to assemble, will last for a while, and degrade gracefully (because nobody wants pieces of the cat tree flying around the house after a week of use).

Designing a universal cat tree "for everyone" is just as hard (if not impossible) as designing a universal product. Let's not forget that persona is not a solution but it is a summary of the user research you conduct before designing a product. Persona doesn't make your product automatically better, but it helps you ground product design decisions. Just like any tool, if you don't use it well, it may not bring you much, but if you use it right, you will discover quite a lot of benefits.

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