Chances are, your UX designers have heard the mantra that the team needs to get out of their own heads. Moving from that abstract notion to real strategy, however, is easier said than done.

Skillful use of personas can help bridge the gap between theory and practice. Fictional users compiled from real data about your customer base, personas let your team think about your typical customer as a person with a face and a set of needs.

Personas can be especially useful when your team is finding ways to improve new customer onboarding. Seeing your product from the perspective of someone using it for the first time, not as the team that spent months or years building in, is critical to making your onboarding UX the best it can be. A good persona can go a long way toward giving you that perspective. It can show you what your customers hope to get out of your product and what sort of guidance they need as they get started. In this post, we’ll take a look at how using personas can help you optimize your onboarding UX.

Personas show you what your users want to be better at

What your customers wind up using your product for the most will not necessarily be what your team envisioned when they built it. Twitter was originally built as a status broadcasting service to let groups of friends at big events keep up with each other. No one imagined it would be a tool for companies and social organizations to share their ideas until its members started using it that way. If you begin with a clear idea about which of your products' features adds the most value for your users, you can tailor the onboarding UX accordingly. Personas can put that relationship in concrete terms.

Rather than trying to sell users on what your product can do, onboarding should be about selling new users on what they will be able to build and achieve with your product. Most people are using an email client because they want the team to communicate seamlessly, not because they are interested in managing email for its own sake. If you can get your users excited about what your product will do for their business, they’re more likely to stay engaged during the onboarding process and beyond. More engaged users will be looking for reasons to upgrade their plans rather than looking for reasons to drop out.

Your UX designers should mold the onboarding process to this idea. Your product’s tutorial, for example, should explain features to your customers in terms of how they will use them. A newcomer to a research product like Hotjar should not be introduced with a dump of specs about how your visualization tools work or how extensive your automation is. Instead, your customers should be seeing how they can find insights like why their younger users are churning so often.

If new users are being continually reminded what they are going to get out of your product, they are less likely to lose interest.

Using personas will help your team infer some of the typical goals that your users will want to accomplish. If your designers know that most of your users are skilled professionals working in quantitative fields such as accounting or data analytics, they might be able to connect the dots on their own. If they, instead, consider the persona of a certified public accountant who is using your product to simplify her workflow, nailing down what she hopes to accomplish will be easier.

Further, using personas will help you work through use-cases based on users who have different needs. Chances are, not all of your users will have the same goals, even if they use the same features of your product. The manager at a fintech startup in New York City might be using your accounting software differently than the restaurant owner in Austin. Thoughtful use of personas will help your team think through each case.

Personas show how your users learn

Not every user will find the same medium compelling during the onboarding process. Some will prefer in-depth videos walking them through your product. Others will want to start mucking around with your product with a little guidance to show them where to begin. Personas help your team infer what methods will mesh best with your users’ styles of learning.

Differentiating users with varying styles of learning with raw data alone can be tough. Someone who learns by doing might feel bogged down in a lengthy tutorial but might not be able to express their issue clearly in a survey. He might complain that the tutorial is too long, or the language is unclear, when his real issue is that learning in that verbal format just doesn’t work for him. Personas encourage your team to ask questions like how a visual learner or a verbal learner would navigate your onboarding process.

From there, you can reason backwards to make sense of data like survey responses. If your data tell you that most of your users will tend to be visual learners, you can tailor the onboarding experience accordingly.

Source: Pixabay

That same logic makes personas useful as a tool to work with customers from different professional backgrounds. The graphic designer using your research tool likely has a different style of learning than the statistician.

What’s more, if your team has a clear idea of where your users are coming from, you can make informed decisions about what sort of language to use and how to explain your products’ features. If you are dealing with users who have used a product like yours before, you will likely want to frame your product in comparison to whatever sort of product your customers were using before. If you are designing for animators who have used Adobe After Effects before, you will want to identify what parts of the Adobe interface your customers found frustrating, or a feature they wanted that it didn’t have.

Further, users of different age groups are likely to approach your onboarding process in different ways. Older users may be less inclined to dig through crowded menus and less familiar with modern software jargon. They likely began their careers using different tools than younger users did, and will be more receptive to an onboarding process that resembles something they know.

Personas help you fine-tune the process and skip steps

When designing your onboarding UX, your team will need to make trade-offs between making comprehensive tutorials and getting users up to speed fast. Striking the wrong balance is bound to rub new users the wrong way.

For the most part, your users are likely busy people. They will not appreciate feeling that you are holding their hand through a process they could handle on their own. On the other hand, leaving out key bits of information will cause all sorts of problems down the road. By using personas, you can make informed judgments about where to strike the balance.

Front, for instance, left major holes in its onboarding process by failing to explain its least intuitive features. Rather than using an “X” or a “close" button to dismiss its integration pane, it required users to click the "add" button again, something that would throw even veteran users of this sort of product. Its onboarding process should have walked new users through this sort of feature step by step.


Your product might, for example, be a messaging tool intended for users at financial firms. They’re busy people, who have probably used Slack or something like it at some point in their careers. For them, a lengthy written tutorial is going to be more of a nuisance than an asset. You will be better off with simple modal windows pointing out your product’s key features.


Further, personas will give your team a better idea of how your users view their time. Sometimes learning new software will be important enough for users to put up with a thorough tutorial to make sure they know the product backwards and forwards. In other cases, your users will be swamped with other responsibilities, and anything but the sparest of tutorials will be too much.

Using personas encourages the team to consider the other priorities each of your users might have while going through the onboarding process. The notion that your users are busy does not convey as much information as a list of plausible responsibilities attached to a hypothetical person.

Personas turn data into a form your team can understand

Even with the best charts and reports, turning data into a form that will be meaningful for your team is hard. Using your data to build a persona can get you over that hurdle. Telling your team that your average user skews young and tends to be well-educated may not have the same impact as constructing a persona of a twenty-six-year-old user who works for a media company.

As just about any statistician will tell you, quantitative data can only get you so far. Doing a bird’s-eye view analysis of your conversion rate among users of different age groups might tell you that younger users are dropping off faster than older ones. It will not necessarily tell you why. You might notice that older users are not enthused about your automatically updating address book. It will take a bit more digging to see that they are dropping off because it is integrated with Gmail and most of your older users do not have a Gmail account they use regularly.

Using personas will help push your team to do the hard work of interpreting findings in your data by distilling broad trends into the individual people who represent them.

Your team can sort personas into groups based on characteristics related to retention. That way, you can assess what parts of the process might be leading to the most churn and prioritize the parts of your customer base where you can make the most headway.

Personas can also show you where your data might be missing a level of detail. You might, for instance, group your users into those with a graduate or professional degree and those without. That segment might include doctors and lawyers using your accounting software in their private practices. Doctors and lawyers, of course, are different sorts of people with different needs and skills. Looking at their onboarding experience in the same way could lead you in the wrong direction.

Consider instead the persona of Jenny, a doctor from New York who is frustrated with her electronic health records (EHRs).


Those EHRs require far too many clicks for Jenny’s purposes. While entering patient data, a doctor cannot afford to click between multiple screens or juggle a load of dialogue boxes. The demands of patient backlogs are just too great for doctors to spend more than a few minutes on administrative duties for each one. A lawyer, who is working under different constraints, might be able to tolerate more clicks if it means getting more precision out of the software.

If, instead, your team considers the personas of a doctor and a lawyer using your product, you are less likely to make misleading assumptions.

Moreover, personas can be a point of intersection between your UX designers and your sales team. Having well-thought-out personas is vital to success on outbound sales. If both your sales team and UX team are using personas, they can compare notes to make the process work better on both sides.

That doctor who has been frustrated with every EHR product she has used might be skeptical that yours can do any better. If your UX designer can arm your sales team with facts about what your software can do, they can hone on the problems that frustrated doctor has been having up until now and how your product is uniquely equipped to solve them.

These two teams might not have thought to meet with each other before, but sharing best practices on personas can foster more communication generally.

Empathize with your customers

As valuable as personas are, you should never use them as a substitute for customer research. The most detailed persona is still a composite of your users. If you assemble it in the wrong way, it will do more harm than good. Well-constructed personas are built on a solid foundation of customer research showing you who your typical user is. On top of that, a persona can be a solid sanity check on a quantitative analysis. It can tell you when you are conflating groups of people without a proper basis, or when you are skipping over necessary steps in your thinking.

That sort of persona will let your team not just learn disconnected facts about your users but start to walk in their shoes.