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Personas are a design tool for bringing users to life. Personas represent people as types of users. They describes the users’ activities, goals, behaviours and attitudes. Personas are based on real information and research about users.

Why it’s useful

Personas are a useful reference point for understanding who you’re designing a solution for — for example a new customer looking for direction or a call centre representative helping a customer with a new process.

Personas help tell the story of what life is like for a customer today and what they’d like it to be in the future, allowing you to explore possibilities. They also bring user research to life for designers and team members to help keep users at the centre.

When to do it

Personas are useful in the understand phase.

Understand phase

Use personas:

  • when you have a transformational business need — personas can connect you with the users throughout the work
  • as a tool to communicate service concepts
  • to progress prototyping — personas can be used to help focus on who the prototype is for
  • as a tool for making decisions about services.

The questions below can help you determine if personas will be useful for your design activity.

  • Does any user information exist?
  • What type of persona activity is relevant? Are typologies enough?
  • How will personas be used? To progress the project? To shape thinking? To communicate with others?

How to do it

Personas are based on evidence.

  1. Gather the relevant user information you’ve uncovered, including:
    • research information
    • any existing customer research you have — these might contain typologies
    • other design activity that had produced typologies
    • user insight information.
  2. Decide which information is relevant.
  3. Sketch out the persona based on what you know:
    • who they are — give them a name and a description (like Get-it-Done Dan — likes to do everything himself)
    • what they do
    • any information that is relevant to the design parameters (if the project is about a portal, include information on the persona’s technology and interaction preferences)
    • demographic information if it exists — this is optional
    • a picture — it is useful to give a face to the name, but this and personal details are optional.
  4. Consider role-playing an interview with the persona to make sure you have captured the right kind of information.
  5. Put your personas to work. Use them:
    • as characters to communicate
    • to illustrate personal quotes and powerful anecdotes
    • as prompts to describe task flows
    • to test service prototypes — touchpoints, interactions, processes.

Remember that real users should also be engaged when testing your design.

Example personas

Image 1: Eight personas
8 photos of people, ranging in age, gender and race, with names and descriptions.
Detailed description of image

The following summaries list the characteristics of each persona from most to least relevant.

Persona 1: Mary — pragmatic user of services

  1. Very much in her comfort zone
  2. Quite optimistic
  3. Somewhat considered
  4. Patient
  5. Conscientious
  6. Measured
  7. Stable
  8. Approachable

Persona 2: Chris — overloaded seeker of services

  1. Very burdened
  2. Striving
  3. Somewhat fatigued
  4. Self-critical
  5. Worried
  6. Dedicated
  7. Frustrated

Persona 3: Julian — confident navigator of services

  1. Very resourceful
  2. Early adopter
  3. Somewhat savvy
  4. Driven
  5. Analytical
  6. Informed
  7. Positive
  8. Expects the best

Persona 4: Shona — disenfranchised critic of the system

  1. Very headstrong
  2. Somewhat struggling
  3. Disengaged
  4. Sceptical
  5. Jaded
  6. Anxious
  7. Resistant

Persona 5: Ning — unfamiliar seeker of services

  1. New
  2. Determined
  3. Unsure
  4. Achiever
  5. Hopeful
  6. Willing
  7. Daunted
  8. Adaptable
  9. Unassuming

Persona 6: Nikki — self-focused maximiser of services

  1. Very unfocused
  2. Somewhat fickle
  3. Self-centred
  4. Casual
  5. Under the radar
  6. Aimless
  7. Ingenious
  8. Casual

Persona 7: Amir — isolated user of services

  1. Unaccustomed
  2. Stunned
  3. Anxious
  4. Insular
  5. Grappling
  6. Resigned
  7. Bewildered
  8. Grateful

Persona 8: Fred — reluctant navigator of the system

  1. Very overwhelmed
  2. In crisis
  3. Somewhat distressed
  4. Pressured
  5. Vulnerable
  6. Confused
  7. Emotionally depleted

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