How to use user research to keep an accurate picture of your users

Kai Wong

UX Collective

An old man looking into the mirror with grey hair and having his younger, brown-haired reflection looking back at him.

“So how will our user research inform our Personas?” A Lead Product Designer asked, which was a question that I hadn’t expected.

It was true: the last time our personas had been looked at was pre-pandemic.

They desperately needed a refresh, but between the dozens of tasks I was juggling and the current company environment, gathering all the necessary people and formally updating it seemed impossible.

However, updating your personas shouldn’t be a monumental effort; it doesn’t always require as much effort as you might think. Instead, all it requires is a way to integrate it into your existing processes around research.

Personas aren’t art pieces: update them (internally) with research

Personas, fictional and realistic descriptions of target users, always seem difficult to update for one key reason: you often need sign-off from a whole bunch of your team to make changes.

Multiple teams likely assembled and signed off on the current personas, and you might have even had several meetings around it. Making changes around what you’ve created is probably not that easy. After all, it’s not very useful to have a constantly changing persona if you’re going to use it for reference.

However, keeping it on a pedestal (or a dusty broom closet) and not touching it at all can lead to problems. It’s one of the critical reasons Why personas fail.

Two figures sitting at a table drinking coffee. One says “Personas don’t work. We’ve created them before and nobody even used them.”

After all, how often do you revisit over a year-old documents in your design process? Most likely, only a few times. So, how effective is it if it’s out of sight and out of mind for most of the team?

This is where a concept called Versioning comes into play. It’s a skill I’ve learned working with Engineering, which can help you with this.