Personas are fictional characters, which you create based upon your research in order to represent the different user types that might use your service, product, site, or brand in a similar way. Creating personas will help you to understand your users’ needs, experiences, behaviors and goals. Creating personas can help you step out of yourself. It can help you to recognize that different people have different needs and expectations, and it can also help you to identify with the user you’re designing for. Personas make the design task at hand less complex, they guide your ideation processes, and they can help you to achieve the goal of creating a good user experience for your target user group.

As opposed to designing products, services, and solutions based upon the preferences of the design team, it has become standard practice within many human centered design disciplines to collate research and personify certain trends and patterns in the data as personas. Hence, personas do not describe real people, but you compose your personas based on real data collected from multiple individuals. Personas add the human touch to what would largely remain cold facts in your research. When you create persona profiles of typical or atypical (extreme) users, it will help you to understand patterns in your research, which synthesizes the types of people you seek to design for. Personas are also known as model characters or composite characters.

Personas provide meaningful archetypes which you can use to assess your design development against. Constructing personas will help you ask the right questions and answer those questions in line with the users you are designing for. For example, “How would Peter, Joe, and Jessica experience, react, and behave in relation to feature X or change Y within the given context?” and “What do Peter, Joe, and Jessica think, feel, do and say?” and “What are their underlying needs we are trying to fulfill?”

In the Design Thinking process, designers will often start creating personas during the second phase, the Define phase. In the Define phase, Design Thinkers synthesise their research and findings from the very first phase, the Empathise phase. Using personas is just one method, among others, that can help designers move on to the third phase, the Ideation phase.

Four Different Perspectives on Personas

1. Goal-directed Personas

This persona cuts straight to the nitty-gritty. “It focusses on: What does my typical user want to do with my product?”. The objective of a goal-directed persona is to examine the process and workflow that your user would prefer to utilize in order to achieve their objectives in interacting with your product or service. There is an implicit assumption that you have already done enough user research to recognize that your product has value to the user, and that by examining their goals, you can bring their requirements to life. The goal-directed personas are based upon the perspectives of Alan Cooper, an American software designer and programmer who is widely recognized as the “Father of Visual Basic”.

2. Role-Based Personas

The role-based perspective is also goal-directed and it also focusses on behavior. The personas of the role-based perspectives are massively data-driven and incorporate data from both qualitative and quantitative sources. The role-based perspective focusses on the user’s role in the organization. In some cases, our designs need to reflect upon the part that our users play in their organizations or wider lives. An examination of the roles that our users typically play in real life can help inform better product design decisions. Where will the product be used? What’s this role’s purpose? What business objectives are required of this role? Who else is impacted by the duties of this role? What functions are served by this role?

3. Engaging Personas

Engaging personas can incorporate both goal and role-directed personas, as well as the more traditional rounded personas. These engaging personas are designed so that the designers who use them can become more engaged with them. The idea is to create a 3D rendering of a user through the use of personas. The more people engage with the persona and see them as ’real’, the more likely they will be to consider them during the process design and want to serve them with the best product. These personas examine the emotions of the user, their psychologybackgrounds and make them relevant to the task in hand. The perspective emphasizes how stories can engage and bring the personas to life. 

4. Fictional Personas

The fictional persona does not emerge from user research (unlike the other personas) but it emerges from the experience of the UX design team. It requires the team to make assumptions based upon past interactions with the user base, and products to deliver a picture of what, perhaps, typical users look like. There’s no doubt that these personas can be deeply flawed (and there are endless debates on just how flawed). You may be able to use them as an initial sketch of user needs. They allow for early involvement with your users in the UX design process, but they should not, of course, be trusted as a guide for your development of products or services.

The 10 steps are an ideal process to create Personas:

1. Collect data. Collect as much knowledge about the users as possible. Perform high-quality user research of actual users in your target user group. In Design Thinking, the research phase is the first phase, also known as the Empathize phase.

2. Form a hypothesis. Based upon your initial research, you will form a general idea of the various users within the focus area of the project, including the ways users differ from one another – For instance, you can use Affinity Diagrams and Empathy Maps.

3. Everyone accepts the hypothesis. The goal is to support or reject the first hypothesis about the differences between the users. You can do this by confronting project participants with the hypothesis and comparing it to existing knowledge.

4. Establish a number. You will decide upon the final number of personas, which it makes sense to create. Most often, you would want to create more than one persona for each product or service, but you should always choose just one persona as your primary focus.

5. Describe the personas. The purpose of working with personas is to be able to develop solutions, products and services based upon the needs and goals of your users. Be sure to describe personas in such a way as to express enough understanding and empathy to understand the users.

  • You should include details about the user’s education, lifestyle, interests, values, goals, needs, limitations, desires, attitudes, and patterns of behaviour.
  • Add a few fictional personal details to make the persona a realistic character.
  • Give each of your personas a name.
  • Create 1–2-pages of descriptions for each persona.

6. Prepare situations or scenarios for your personas. This engaging persona method is directed at creating scenarios that describe solutions. For this purpose, you should describe a number of specific situations that could trigger use of the product or service you are designing. In other words, situations are the basis of a scenario. You can give each of your personas life by creating scenarios that feature them in the role of a user. Scenarios usually start by placing the persona in a specific context with a problem they want to or have to solve.

7. Obtain acceptance from the organization. It is a common thread throughout all 10 steps that the goal of the method is to involve the project participants. As such, as many team members as possible should participate in the development of the personas, and it is important to obtain the acceptance and recognition of the participants of the various steps. In order to achieve this, you can choose between two strategies: You can ask the participants for their opinion, or you can let them participate actively in the process.

8. Disseminate knowledge. In order for the participants to use the method, the persona descriptions should be disseminated to all. It is important to decide early on how you want to disseminate this knowledge to those who have not participated directly in the process, to future new employees, and to possible external partners. The dissemination of knowledge also includes how the project participants will be given access to the underlying data.

9. Everyone prepares scenarios. Personas have no value in themselves, until the persona becomes part of a scenario – the story about how the persona uses a future product – it does not have real value.

10. Make ongoing adjustments. The last step is the future life of the persona descriptions. You should revise the descriptions on a regular basis. New information and new aspects may affect the descriptions. Sometimes you would need to rewrite the existing persona descriptions, add new personas, or eliminate outdated personas.