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.
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, personas should 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:
Collect extensive data on target users.
Determine the qualities of and differences between users.
Develop a hypothesis from the research, determining the qualities of and differences between users.
Ensure stakeholders agree on the hypothesis about the users.
Determine a number of personas – more than one per project, but focus especially on one.
Name and describe each persona in 1-2 pages, including:
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.
Describe several situations/scenarios prompting the persona to use your product – put him/her in contexts with problems to overcome.
Include everyone involved in the project so they’ll accept the persona or advise revisions.
Send them the personato use in their work.
Ensure everyone develops scenarios – these should expose the persona optimally to potential use cases.
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”:
Stays in context – What specific points about his/her situation can you map to how he/she can use your product now?
Reflects a target user’s real behavior patterns, attitudes, skillset, motivations and goals within the product’s domain.
Has an end-goal – What does the user want to achieve? What features would help him/her do that best?
Faces realistic, relevant scenarios—written from the persona’s perspective—to envision how users would find they’d use the product to attain a particular goal.
Occupies a clear setting – a day-in-the-life approach that shows what he/she encounters in what environment.
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.
To create effective personas, start by researching to understand your users, focusing on their behaviors, needs, and motivations. William Hudson, CEO of Syntagm Ltd, emphasizes the significance of personas in promoting empathy and understanding, allowing designers to focus on individuals rather than abstract user groups.
According to William, personas are fabrications based on thorough research and should represent real users' goals, behaviors, and motivations. Developing minimal personas with crucial details can be advantageous, concentrating on primary objectives, behaviors, and context of use relevant to the solution or product. It's critical to maintain credibility, ensuring personas are believable and avoiding unnecessary, distracting details.
Here's a step-by-step guide on how to create effective user personas, plus a downloadable template:
Get your free template for “Engaging Personas”
Who should be involved in creating design personas?
Everyone who is going to use the personas should be involved in making them. This builds a feeling of ownership and approval. Invite members of your development team to sit in on research sessions. This way, you can ensure that the personas are based on real user data and reflect the needs and goals of your target users. You can also use the personas as a communication tool to align your team and stakeholders on the user-centered design process.
Use our step-by-step guide to create user personas:
Get your free “Persona” template
What makes a good persona?
A good persona is grounded in user behavior observed through field studies, not merely opinions from surveys or focus groups. According to Frank Spillers, CEO of Experience Dynamics, in his insightful video, constructing personas requires understanding users' environments, tasks, and the context in which they consume content.
Personas should be developed from user research, highlighting users' needs, goals, and the problems they encounter. A well-crafted persona describes users’ needs and behaviors as they apply to the solution in question. Backstories should focus on the motivations for the needs and behaviors, making the persona concise and directly relevant to the development team. Team engagement with personas will help to ensure truly user-centered solutions.
Get your free template for “3D Persona Template”
Can a persona be a real person?
No, a persona is not typically a real person. It's a rich, detailed representation of user research to help understand users’ needs, behaviors, and goals. As Alan Dix, an HCI professor, emphasized in his insightful video, the persona should feel authentic and detailed to guide the design process effectively.
It enables creators to ask targeted questions like "How would this persona use this feature?" to optimize user experience.
What is persona in psychology?
In psychology, a persona refers to the outward personality or image we present to the world, often masking our true selves. It’s a concept derived from Jungian psychology, representing the social mask one wears in public interactions. In interaction design, a persona is a user-centered tool representing a user group to aid designers in creating user-friendly products. Explore the concept of personas in interaction design in this comprehensive book chapter on Personas provided by Interaction Design Foundation.
What is the difference between persona vs personality?
As highlighted in this article, a persona is a tool in user-centered design, representing idealized characters to epitomize user types. It aids designers in crafting user-centric solutions, focusing on user needs, goals, and behaviors. Conversely, personality refers to the unique characteristics, thoughts, and feelings that differentiate one person from another, inherently influencing their interactions and reactions. Grasping the differences between persona and personality is vital for creating products that align with user expectations and needs.
What is the difference between a persona and a role?
A persona represents a fictional character created in user-centered design to embody specific user types, focusing on needs, goals, and behaviors to aid in developing user-centric products and services. A role, however, refers to an individual's expected set of responsibilities, tasks, and activities based on their position within a system or organization. While a persona helps understand and address user needs and expectations, a role defines the functional part played by individuals in various contexts, illustrating the actions they should perform. Unfortunately, roles are often poorly understood within organizations, even by the role-holders themselves.
What is the difference between a persona and stereotype?
A persona is a research-based, fictional character representing a user type in user-centered design, focusing on user needs, goals, and behaviors. In contrast, a stereotype is a fixed, oversimplified, and generalized belief or idea about a particular group of people, often leading to misconceptions and biases. While personas are tools to enhance user-centric design by emphasizing diversity and individual user needs, stereotypes can hinder this process by promoting homogeneous and potentially inaccurate representations.
What is the difference between primary and secondary personas?
A primary persona is the main target of your design, who represents the most important or common user segment. A secondary persona is a user who has additional or different needs from the primary persona, but can still benefit from your product or service. As long as the needs of the secondary persona do not conflict with the primary, only minor design adjustments are necessary. If the primary and secondary needs conflict, it is most likely that two primary personas are needed.
Where to learn more about personas?
To delve deeper into personas, consider enrolling in our Design Thinking: The Ultimate Guide and Gamification: How to Create Engaging User Experiences courses. These courses offer in-depth knowledge and practical insights on creating detailed and empathetic personas, enabling you to effectively design user-centric products and services. Whether you're a seasoned professional or a design enthusiast, our courses cater to all learning needs, enhancing your understanding of user personas.
Literature on Personas
Here’s the entire UX literature on
the Interaction Design Foundation, collated in one place:
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!