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What are Personas?

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 helps the designer to understand users’ needs, experiences, behaviors and goals.

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Learn how to use personas to make better designs.

Personas Are More Than “People”

Personas are distilled essences of real users. In user experience (UX) design, you use personas to build empathy with target users and focus on their world. You should always create personas from observations about real users, personasshould never be invented out of your assumptions about your users. Because you must map your users’ needs to your design’s functionality, you must first clearly define both the needs and the users.

“Personas are the single most powerful design tool that we use. They are the foundation for all subsequent goal-directed design. Personas allow us to see the scope and nature of the design problem… [They] are the bright light under which we do surgery.”

— Alan Cooper, Software designer, programmer and the “Father of Visual Basic”

As designers, we shape personas iteratively. We divide users into manageable groups and represent each with a typical embodiment – a persona. For instance, for an app that helps students budget, “Amy” represents 18-year-old females who must adapt to college life. Through Amy, we see how our app helps these users in their day-to-day activities. We imagine Amy has just started banking online, lives in shared housing and works weekends. Her goal is to save money. Her scenario: she stretches $70 to cover her week’s groceries.

Create Effective Personas

Personas are deliverables in design thinking’s Define phase. As they’re extremely helpful in ideation, they should feature early in design processes. To create them, you:

  1. Collect extensive data on target users.

  2. Determine the qualities of and differences between users.

  3. Develop a hypothesis from the research, determining the qualities of and differences between users.

  4. Ensure stakeholders agree on the hypothesis about the users.

  5. Determine a number of personas – more than one per project, but focus especially on one.

  6. Name and describe each persona in 1-2 pages, including:

    1. A picture.

    2. User’s values, interests, education, lifestyle, needs, attitudes, desires, limitations, goals and behavior patterns.

    3. Extra details about the persona (e.g., interests) – anything to make him/her more real and relevant and help build empathy. A written story is better than bullet points.

  7. Describe several situations/scenarios prompting the persona to use your product – put him/her in contexts with problems to overcome.

  8. Include everyone involved in the project so they’ll accept the persona or advise revisions.

  9. Send them the persona to use in their work.

  10. Ensure everyone develops scenarios – these should expose the persona optimally to potential use cases.

  11. Make continuous adjustments – revisit the persona; add new features; add required new personas; discard outdated personas.

How to Use Personas in Design Projects

When you bring personas into projects, you help prevent stakeholders from designing for themselves. It also keeps them from stretching generic users to fit designs. Personas help in quick prototype testing, too. You’ll confirm a persona works well when you ensure that “he/she”:

  1. Stays in context – What specific points about his/her situation can you map to how he/she can use your product now?

  2. Reflects a target user’s real behavior patterns, attitudes, skillset, motivations and goals within the product’s domain.

  3. Has an end-goal – What does the user want to achieve? What features would help him/her do that best?

  4. Faces realistic, relevant scenarioswritten from the persona’s perspective—to envision how users would find they’d use the product to attain a particular goal.

  5. Occupies a clear setting – a day-in-the-life approach that shows what he/she encounters in what environment.

  6. Has visible pain points – What’s the hardest/most frustrating aspect of his/her situation/context?

Bring the Persona closer to home with an Empathy Map.

Learn More about Personas

The IxDF has courses examining Personas (e.g., Design Thinking, Gamification):

The IxDF’s encyclopedia entry on Personas:

Free printable persona -

An in-depth look at Role-Directed Personas:

This detail-rich piece addresses accommodating plural Personas:

Learn how to avoid what can go wrong:

Literature on Personas

Here’s the entire UX literature on Personas by the Interaction Design Foundation, collated in one place:

Learn more about Personas

Take a deep dive into Personas with our course User Research – Methods and Best Practices .

How do you plan to design a product or service that your users will love, if you don't know what they want in the first place? As a user experience designer, you shouldn't leave it to chance to design something outstanding; you should make the effort to understand your users and build on that knowledge from the outset. User research is the way to do this, and it can therefore be thought of as the largest part of user experience design.

In fact, user research is often the first step of a UX design process—after all, you cannot begin to design a product or service without first understanding what your users want! As you gain the skills required, and learn about the best practices in user research, you’ll get first-hand knowledge of your users and be able to design the optimal product—one that’s truly relevant for your users and, subsequently, outperforms your competitors’.

This course will give you insights into the most essential qualitative research methods around and will teach you how to put them into practice in your design work. You’ll also have the opportunity to embark on three practical projects where you can apply what you’ve learned to carry out user research in the real world. You’ll learn details about how to plan user research projects and fit them into your own work processes in a way that maximizes the impact your research can have on your designs. On top of that, you’ll gain practice with different methods that will help you analyze the results of your research and communicate your findings to your clients and stakeholders—workshops, user journeys and personas, just to name a few!

By the end of the course, you’ll have not only a Course Certificate but also three case studies to add to your portfolio. And remember, a portfolio with engaging case studies is invaluable if you are looking to break into a career in UX design or user research!

We believe you should learn from the best, so we’ve gathered a team of experts to help teach this course alongside our own course instructors. That means you’ll meet a new instructor in each of the lessons on research methods who is an expert in their field—we hope you enjoy what they have in store for you!

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