The Power of Personas for Your Comics

Personas are a design and communication tool used by user experience professionals to explain their target audience and users in a way that helps other people empathize with real humans to make better decisions. They are a tool I'm fond of in my User Expereince Lead position and have only recently begun applying to comic works. Today you'll learn what a persona is, why create a persona, how to create a persona, and how to use a persona to create a better reader and buyer experience for your comics.

What is a persona?

"A persona is a user archetype you can use to help guide decisions about product features, navigation, interactions, and even visual design. By designing for the archetype—whose goals and behavior patterns are well understood—you can satisfy the broader group of people represented by that archetype."- Kim Goodwin, "Perfecting Your Personas."

You're probably thinking, "that sounds like research backed character design ... for life," and in many ways, you are right. In fact, if you look at any number of persona examples, you'll notice they may look similar in many ways to character profile templates you are already using.

This  template  from Creative Companion is one example of a persona template. There are several flavors for personas, but most include name, goals, highlighted attributes, personality, and challenges.

This template from Creative Companion is one example of a persona template. There are several flavors for personas, but most include name, goals, highlighted attributes, personality, and challenges.

The difference is what goes into them and how you apply them. More on that as we go.

Why use personas?

Personas are a powerful way to think through your comics, your websites, your brand, and your convention presence in a way that should work really well for comics professionals - storytelling. By doing the research to create them, you'll learn details about your readers you may never have considered before.

Distilling the most common themes into a persona gives you a guardrail for making design and business decisions for your comics. You can even use personas to write short stories about common scenarios to uncover unmet needs that you can provide for as you adjust how you do business. This will help you better present your work so that they are more engaged, and ideally so that they buy or donate to support your work (often called a conversion in the analytics world).

For example, one of my personas for Infinite Spiral, Paul, is a parent who is very involved with what his 12 year old daughter reads and likes to be on the same page so they can discuss difficult topics together. He also likes her to be challenged. Infinite Spiral  includes some tough themes like discrimination and systemic injustice. To better provide for Paul, I could add content or a section just for parents, introducing the comic and providing Paul with material to have meaningful conversations about what his child is reading. I could even bring promotional material for the comic to conventions geared toward parents like Paul. That would improve his experience - and probably the experience for his daughter too. It also would help me create a loyal reader and customer. Win/win!

Doing research for personas

Of course, unlike characters, you can't just make up your personas. You actually need to understand your audience or potential audience. That's where research comes in. Now research sounds really intimidating, but really it is just a structured series of conversations and observations that allow you to get to know your audience. Basically, talk to your customers/audience and listen to them ... carefully.

Here's a structure to help you get started:

1) know what questions you want to ask.

What do you want to learn? What you want to learn will feed the questions for your interviews. You'll want to prepare your list of questions in advance.

For example, if you want to learn how to interact with your audience at your booth, you might ask your interviewee these types of questions:

  • "How do you find new comics at conventions?"
  • "How you decide whether or not to approach a booth?"
  • "What types of interactions do you prefer to have with vendors at a booth? Why?"

Notice how these try to get your subject to describe with details or tell a story. When writing your questions, try to ask open ended questions, not yes or no questions. Plan follow up questions and phrases such as "tell me more about that" that can help encourage your interviewee to speak more at length and give more details.

You also want to be careful not to ask biased or leading questions, like "Do you have any problems with the Infinite Spiral website?" or "Don't you enjoy science fiction like ___?" Questions like that set your interviewee up for a specific response that is biased and may not be truthful. Usually these questions yield responses that are what the interview wants to hear not what they need  to hear. Like Fox Mulder says, "The Truth is out there" ... but in interviewing only if you ask the right questions.

Learn more about writing great interview questions by reading "5 Steps to Create Good User Interview Questions" by Teo Yu Sheng.

2) Figure Out who You want to interview.

Knowing your target audience is key to talking to the right people. Is your comic for science fiction lovers of all ages and genders? Is it a fantasy novel geared toward female identifying folks who love Namesake? Is your comic for folks who just love the fresh smell of books in the morning and loves to flip through physical objects? Maybe it is a deep story for folks who love literature and are just figuring out the literary side of comics. All those traits and behaviors are important to honing in on your target audience (which will ultimately help you define your persona/s).

Usually, you can start with some general demographic information - kind of like a hypothesis of the person you think is in your audience. As you learn more about your audience and especially the desires, goals, and behaviors of your audience, you can start to get more specific.

3) recruit people to interview.

Once you know who you want to talk to, you have to go find them! If you have an established comic or project, you can catch them via chat, in your comment portal, or at a convention - depending on how extraverted you are. If you have a new comic or project, you may need to get a bit more creative to find potential audience members to talk to- a comic convention or the library or forum full of people interested in your project's genre.

4) Do the interview!

Once you have who you are going to interview, you conduct it. You can set up a hangout virtually or just pull willing people aside at a convention. If the noise of a convention is too much, you can always try a different place like a coffee shop. The location is up to you and the level of distraction you can handle.

Don't be nervous! This is kind of like getting to chat with someone about a topic of mutual interest. Start out with some icebreakers and then move into you questions. It will make you and the interviewee feel more comfortable. You may want to ask for permission to record them (so you don't need to take notes until later).

5) Take Good notes.

Whether you take notes during the interview, or from the recording afterward it is an important step. Human memory isn't terribly reliable, so write interesting things you here down (or transcribe it all). This will give you a record to review later, which is important if you've done a few different interviews. You are doing a few different interviews right?

6) Look for themes in your notes.

Once you've done a few interviews you can review your notes. You'll notice commonalities and themes emerge. Sometimes, that's hard with just a page of notes. Print your notes out and cut out key points so you can move them around and group related items - or put notes on sticky notes and do the same. This way you can see like items together and name themes. Chances are you'll see a persona or two begin to emerge from this activity.

Creating personas

After you've organized your research it is time to write your personas. There are lots of great templates online, or you can just use Curiographic's template. Here are some key tips for creating a persona that shines:

  1. Choose a memorable name - some persona advocates love to use alliteration (like Nancy Newton or Paul Parent) for example.
  2. Focus on goals, behaviors, challenges, and pain points more than demographics.
  3. Tell a story.
  4. Find or create an image for your persona.

Including all these things help you to empathize with your persona and focus on key areas where you can help them as your reader or customer.

Here's a persona template Curiographic has created to help you get started!


Persona Template

Let our persona template help you get started making personas for your comic projects!


Using personas

 So now you have a persona or two, but what do you do with it? That probably depends on those research questions you had (what you wanted to learn) when you created personas. For example, say you wanted to know more about how your audience buys comics at conventions. This might be because you know your sales are lower than you were hoping so you want to improve your booth. The easiest next step is to write a scenario (a short story) with your persona that describes their ideal booth experience. You could use the  Story Spine to help you get started if that is useful. Just keep in mind, a scenario also springs from that awesome research you did. 

Here's an example:

Let's say we have Ira Introvert. He loves fantasy and sci fi stories, but is already a little overwhelmed at comic conventions due to the crowd. Going up to a booth and talking to an artist is very intimidating for him, so he tends to stay in the middle of the aisle. He relies on banners and imagery to draw him into a booth. He sees a banner that peaks his interest - it has great art and tells him just enough about what the story is, so he gets closer to the table. He likes that the artist gives him some time to look things over and that they have descriptions of their book where he can read, from still a bit of a distance and take it in. He doesn't look at the artist or try to talk to them until he spies a comic that catches his interest and he wants to know more. Thankfully, the artist actually doesn't engage until he makes eye contact, giving him the time to take in the shop and build up some courage after a lot of dealing with strangers. They have a short chat about the book and he makes a purchase and takes a card to find them later. He's very interested in the artist's Patreon because he finds online interactions so much easier. He'll remember that this artist didn't intimidate him.

Once you've written your scenario, you can use that as a guide to help you redesign your booth to better appeal to your target audience - from how and when you greet them to the types of banners and signage you use.

You can also just use personas to run through problems you may be having with your website set up, or to think through mailing list content, or to help you define rewards for your Patreon. You can write personas or just have your personas nearby as you work, reflecting often "how would this help Persona X?"

And that's it! That's a friendly tool from the User Experience Design world that can help you empathize with your customers and readers so you can optimize their experience with your comics, business, and brand.