Curated by: Luigi Canali De Rossi

Friday, May 7, 2010

How To Use Personas In User Experience Design And Development Research

Sponsored Links

Personas, in the world of user experience design, identify and paint detailed key customer profiles so that, who markets to them within your company, can more easily picture and empathize who they are addressing. In other words: Personas, which are nothing else but research-based descriptions of certain types of popular user profiles, help designers and information architects best identify the behavior, desire and expectations of a specific group of customers or potential users. In this MasterNewMedia report, you will find basic advice and indications on how you can yourself create effective personas and utilize them to improve your own website usability testing and online marketing efforts.

Photo credit: Adaptive Path

Personas or personae are basically fictitious profiles or identikits that design and marketing professionals draw to identify particularly relevant and popular user-profiles within a certain demographic.

In essence: designers want to know, and picture in front of their eyes, the "typical" type of customers and profiles they are catering to, in order to further customize to their specific needs and expectations the online user experience.

By describing in detail with pictures and words such customer profiles, designers and marketers can more easily identify with, empathize and anticipate user reactions, behaviours and preferences relative to each possible design choice.

But what makes for a good persona? Do pictures, a solid description with psychological traits and notes on typical background experiences for each user profile provide the ideal information set to paint a useful reference persona or is it enough to wotk with just a few characterizing traits to still get significant results?

If you want to deploy a systematic approach to develop and use personas in your design analysis, user experience consultant Alistair Gray, shares in this non-technical report how to create personas without going crazy, and how to use them as your best customer profile reference.


10 Unexpected Online User Behaviours To Look Out For

by Alistair Gray


Conducting user research can produce some amazing insights... but how do you communicate these findings to the rest of your team? This is where personas can step in.

Personas, when used effectively can communicate the results of user research in ways that means the results are taken into account throughout the design / development cycle.


Why Use Personas?


The first step for a user centred design process is to conduct user research. Through this you can learn about your users - their behaviour, attitudes and needs.

The problem is once you get all this lovely, useful rich data, how do you communicate it across to the rest of the design / development team? One popular option available to you is personas.

Personas are a common technique used to communicate findings from user research in a simple and accessible manner.

They're very useful as they can communicate this information quickly and (if done well) in a fun way that will stick with the design / development team through the rest of the process, ensuring the user research is taken into account throughout the course of the project.

The popularity of personas comes from the personalization of the user research data.

It puts a "real" face onto the sometimes rather dry results from user research.


What Are Personas?


Personas are essentially made-up people, based on the data generated by user research conducted previously.

There should be at least one persona to represent each major segment of your users.

The word major is used as ideally you should be using three to five personas, and with most sites there are a lot more user groups.

Each of the personas should have their own personality and be memorable - put too many in front of people and they start to all blur into one.

Any more than five personas and people often start to feel overwhelmed.


How Do You Create Good Personas?


Personas take a variety of shapes and sizes.

The information they contain will be entirely dependent on the user research on which the personas are based, what information is needed by the design / development team and how the personas will be used.

Most personas contain a description, picture and some summary of their needs / goals:

  • Pictures are particularly useful as they help people to visualize the persona, to make it seem real. They also help designers / developers empathize with the personas more easily.

  • A description gives a brief summary of the persona, which often contains demographic information (sometimes going into surprisingly large amounts of detail).

    The description might include (among other information) their job, their technology, any pressures they're under and the situation they're in when they use the system / site.

  • Needs, goals & features can either be a straight list for each persona, or a table comparing each persona against each possible need / feature / goal.

    This can help define a priority list for features (or the needs from which to develop features) before development starts.

Personas may contain a whole variety of other pieces of information, including:

  • A "quote" from the persona

    This should summarise their needs / goals into a single sentence.

    This can be a double edged sword, as this single sentence runs the risk of oversimplifying the personas issues.

    Quotes do have the added advantage of giving the personas further personality.

  • Frustrations

    These are issues that the persona encounters, either with the existing system or because there's no existing system.

    These can clarify to designers / developers exactly what the biggest issues this persona faces.

  • Ideal features

    This is very similar to features, but with no restrictions placed on their feasibility... these may be impossible to produce, but sometimes help designers / developers think of alternative approaches that are more realistic.

  • "Need to know"

    Any information the persona needs when trying to do their goal.

    These help designers / developers understand the key information needed to communicate to users.

  • Behaviours

    These are the typical behaviours the persona exhibits.

    They're usually only shown if the personas different behaviours lead to different needs / requirements of the system in development.

  • Scenarios

    These are sample use cases the persona may do.

    They can be based on either their goals or their use of an existing system.

    This can clarify exactly how a system will be / is used.


How To Adopt Personas In User Experience Design


The whole purpose of personas is to communicate user research, and ensure it's remembered and used throughout the project lifetime. In order for this to happen, the personas must be adopted by the design / development team. Exactly how this adoption is done varies from company to company.

The most common solution is to put up posters of the personas, after introducing the personas to the design / development team for the first time.

Any way that increases the profile of the personas is a good idea; one company produced quick referral "flash cards" for its staff so they could refer to the personas whenever they went.

There are more... alternative methods.

Another company produced full size cut outs of its personas - even putting aside seats in meetings for them!

It'll be clear when the personas have been adopted when people start referring to them on first names, "Dave wouldn't want to do that"... and others don't ask who Dave is.

After the personas are adopted, the design / development team should be able to design and build for the personas, as their "users". In doing so, they'll design and build taking into account the earlier user research the personas are based on without even realising.



Personas are a great way to distill user research into easily understood, bitesize forms.

They can include a variety of information, tailored to the particular project and the team's needs.

However in order to be any use, they must be adopted and used.

If they fade into the background, or are only attended to for the meeting they're introduced, then all the effort / money put into the user research and creating the personas is lost.

Originally written by Alistair Gray for Webcredible, and first published on MasterNewMedia on April 1st, 2010 as "Personas - The Definitive Guide".

About Alistair Gray

Alistair Gray is a user experience consultant for Webcredible since November 2007. Before working for Webcredible, Alistair was a usability consultant for Ominor. In 2006, Alistair graduated at the University College of London in human and computer interaction with ergonomics.

Photo credits:
Why Use Personas? - Cyril Hou
What Are Personas? - Kirsty Pargeter
How Do You Create Good Personas? - Clipart
How To Adopt Personas In User Experience Design - Customer Facing Solutions

Alistair Gray -
Reference: Webcredible [ Read more ]
Readers' Comments    
blog comments powered by Disqus
posted by on Friday, May 7 2010, updated on Tuesday, May 5 2015

Search this site for more with 








    Curated by

    New media explorer
    Communication designer


    POP Newsletter

    Robin Good's Newsletter for Professional Online Publishers  



    Real Time Web Analytics