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Yuri Vedenin
Founder and Boss of UXPressia

What are persona alternatives?


Ooh-la-la! We’ve been talking so much about personas that it seems to be about the time to throw in some persona alternatives to shake things up a little. You know, take a breath of fresh air and think that maybe we’re being too obsessed with this persona nonsense and we’re missing something  — some other cool ways of creating user profiles. So let’s deal with this right here and right now.

When it comes to getting to know people’s goals, expectations, feelings, etc., a few things pop up right away. Apart from personas, of course. There’s a pretty old artifact called User Requirements Specification and two its alternatives — User Stories and Empathy Maps. Each has something interesting to offer and deserves its own blog post. But for now, we’ll only see if they can be persona alternatives or not.

URS (User Requirements Specifications)

comics about User Requirements Specification
Source: Pinterest

URS is a document that specifies what the user expects the software to do. As it gives us a glimpse at the user’s expectations, we think it’s fair to put this one on our list.

User Requirements Specification sample

This doc shows user expectations and that’s good. On the other hand, it is too formal and does not give a wide-angle perspective on the end-user. In fact, URS is not user-centered at all. This document is designed for developers more than for UX teams. All it does is it describes only requirements for the software; there’s not much about user experience.

So can we call it one of the alternatives to personas? Hardly. As long as you’re not interested in who your users are, what they feel, think, and struggle with. Cross it out.

User Stories

user story comics from the persona alternatives blog post
Source: outsystems.com

If we were to play Hot and Cold and I thought of a tool that could give us a perfect picture of your customers, I’d say “Getting warmer!” at this point.

User Story is a popular alternative to our previous also-ran. Like URS, user stories capture a description of software features from users’ perspectives. Stories are all about the software description and requirements. But, unlike URS, User Stories pivot the perspective toward the users and they finally shed some more light on users’ background and goals.

All User Stories have the same (give or take) structure following this formula:

"As <who> <when> <where>, I <what> because <why>."

Here’s an example of a User Story:

user story example

Well, that’s great, you may say. We have the most essential ingredients — role, desire, context, and goal. I wish it were so easy.

Roles are extremely ambiguous. Who’re these “users”? Why do they want something? Roles are masks and they do not show the person behind them. Roles hide the real decision-makers and give them a general tag — “user”. Or “employee”. That doesn’t cut it at all.

User stories don’t give us background, as personas do, they are short and open to interpretation. As a result, we end up with more questions than answers. And while User Stories take a step towards the user, they still suck when it comes to getting to know your customers.

Empathy maps

empathy map as one of the persona alternatives
Empathy map built with UXPressia’s Personas Tool

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out what’s an empathy map. Just look at the picture above. It’s pretty self-explanatory. You got a user (or persona!) in the middle, and sections that describe the specter of what the user thinks, feels, says and so on.

Empathy maps are way closer to what we want from a tool for customer analysis. They are really like microscopes that let us see everything about customers’ behaviors. But nothing about their background, skills, previous experience, context, the list goes on and on.

And without knowing these, we cannot grasp who our customers are, what they want, and why they want it. The picture is complete only when all the puzzles are put together.

Persona. Again?

That’s where the circle closes up and we find ourselves right where we started. On the shores of Personaland. Again? Yes, it seems that there are no good alternatives to personas when the goal is to get a comprehensive and, at the same time, deep knowledge of your customers.

User personas take all the best there is in the artifacts listed above and push it all further a step or two. It’s the ultimate technique that will come in handy for any team. But, in the end, it’s your choice whether to create personas or opt for persona alternatives.

If you decide to bring personas into your organization (or if you have already done so), make sure you do that with UXPressia. With our online Personas maker tool, you can create your personas in a snap with as many features as you want. Access them from any computer, share them with anyone and work together online. It is personas time!

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