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A persona is a representation of a fictitious user that includes a concise summary of characteristics of the user, their experience, goals and tasks, pain points, and environmental conditions. Personas describe the target users of a tool, site, product or application, giving a clear picture of how they're likely to use the system, and what they’ll expect from it.

By designing an interface to meet the needs of specific personas, the needs of wider groups of users with similar goals are met.

Also known as user profiles, user role definitions, audience profiles.

Personas tell stories about users so that people in the organization can understand the user and what the user wants. Personas are archetypal users that act as 'stand-ins' for real users and help guide decisions about site aims, functionality and design.

Each persona represents one particular user group, and is created after rigorously analyzing and categorizing data from user research. Each persona is an amalgam of the common traits of multiple actual people making up a specific user group.

Personas provide powerful (yet quick and simple) guidance for making strategic and planning decisions. They capture the most important information about each user group, typically including:

  • Goals: What users are trying to achieve, such as tasks they want to perform
  • Behavior: Online and offline behavior patterns, helping to identify users' goals
  • Attitudes: Relevant attitudes that predict how users will behave
  • Motivations: Why users want to achieve these goals
  • Business objectives: What you ideally want users to do in order to ensure the website is successful

Additional information may be captured and reflected in a user persona based on the specific needs of the design and development teams.

Personas are usually created at the start of a development, or redevelopment process. With user groups identified at the beginning, the design team can gather requirements and conduct design activities around those groups.


Related Links

Formal Publications

Web Resources


Detailed description

Benefits, Advantages & Disadvantages

Personas enable design and development teams to focus on the issues of greatest importance to users, and deliver them in a way that is most suitable to that group. As importantly, personas tell teams what not to develop. Designs can be constantly evaluated against the personas and disagreements over design decisions can be sorted by referring back to the personas. Some teams use them as a constant reminder throughout the development lifecycle (for example, by printing them and putting them on the wall) about what’s important to users, and to minimize the tendency to design for oneself by always asking, "Would Jim use this?".

The design team is the primary audience since personas help direct and inform design decisions, however, effective personas are useful to many groups:

  • During initial requirements gathering and prioritization personas serve as a useful tool in discussing user needs with non technical stakeholders
  • During development, personas provide engineers context for their work

How To

There’s no standard format for presenting personas across the industry, and different experts have offered different approaches. Regardless of the selected approach, what’s important is being able to group all analysis results and formulate them in a way to express what users think and what they expect.


Research & Information Gathering

Personas are the product of research into the target audience and the complexity of the persona depends on the depth of research. To ensure that the personas reflect 'real' users, they need to be based on a detailed understanding of users, their goals and their priorities: user research is required to gain real insight and understanding into user needs and motivations. The outcome of the analysis would enable the usability expert to identify the major user groups of the site, their main characteristics, and turn them into personas. Research and task analysis methods are conducted through:

  • Contextual Interviews
  • Individual Interviews
  • Surveys
  • Focus Groups
  • Usability tests

Including Basic Elements

Personas, although fictitious, are brought to life and made credible by including personal details (such as a name, age, background and a photo). After studying and segmenting the various user groups, the following essential components can be deduced and shaped for each persona:

  • Name: Give your persona a real name like the one you find in white pages. Real names are useful because they distinctively create a vivid image.
  • Photograph: Profile pictures help stakeholders stop thinking about the users as singular anonymous mass. For a number of reasons the profile picture should always be of a stranger rather than an actual user or person that the team knows. A persona should represent a group rather than a single individual and using pictures of people that are known tends to bias design and development to that individual. There are plenty of stock photography sites that can provide good images for this purpose.
  • Demographics: Personal information such as age, gender, education, ethnicity, or marital status, children, home location, etc... Be concrete in describing your persona. For example: say “a 35 year old woman” rather than saying “female, between the age of 35 and 50”.
  • Occupation details: A job title and their major responsibilities.
  • Personal Background: Information that signify “a day in the life of” description or an overall relationship to the task at hand.
  • Technology Comfort Level: the real value of this information is in its implications. A user’s comfort level with technology should be translated into actual needs. For example, knowing that a persona has never used the web to shop before does not necessarily help the design team, while knowing that a persona prefers to speak directly with a real person because he or she does not feel comfortable giving certain information online, does have a direct impact on the design.
  • Motivations: Why does the persona want to use the site? Try to use their own words to depict what they want to get out of interacting with the organization itself.
  • Goals: What tasks does the persona want to complete using the site and the environment (physical, social, and technological).

Persona Types

Firms typically have three to five personas that guide the design of the product. While the resulting design should ultimately satisfy all of the personas, designers should start by satisfying the needs of a small set of primary personas . Each cast of personas has at least one primary persona, the user who must be satisfied with the system you deliver. Since you can't build everything for every persona (and you wouldn’t want to), the establishment of a small set primary personas is critical in focusing the team’s efforts effectively.

After creating the personas representing all of the users of the product, we must select the primary persona upon which the product is to be designed. It is the persona whose practical goals represent the greatest impact on the corporate goals. Another way to think of it – pick the person who stands to benefit the most from the end product. A typical selection process would look something like this:

  1. Run through all the personas that have been identified at the beginning and for each one, ask the following question: If this user can’t always use my product, is it a failure? If the answer is yes, then hold on to that persona, else discard it
  2. Then start comparing your remaining personas in pairs. Consider their typical contexts of use, and imagine that there is a solution that works for each persona in their own context. This can be done by asking: "Will a solution designed for Persona A also let Persona B achieve his/her goals?" And vice versa. If you find that neither solution is applicable to the other, keep both personas, because they might both be primary.
  3. Keep comparing different pairs until you can truthfully say, "My solution must work for all these, but none of them can succeed with an interface designed for anyone else."

You will usually end up with one primary persona for each major user group, such as one representing consumers and one for administrators. By designing your web site for this user group, you can be confident that it will work for all kinds of other users.

After creating a design that satisfies the needs of the primary persona, designers should add solutions for the unmet needs of secondary personas. These are the personas that were singled out during the selection process of the primary persona. express what users think and what they expect.


In cases where access to the end users is not possible, personas may be developed with the aid of user experts, people who have had extensive first hand contact with people making up a user group. In this case the interface design team may conduct one-on-one interviews or focus groups with user experts to collect enough information to build personas.

Special Considerations

Common Problems

Some common problems with personas are:

  • Data availability. Analysts may not have access to end users (this is discussed in the "variations" section of this entry)
  • Quantity. It is not clear how many personas should be created and to what level of detail
  • Quality. Personas do not adequately represent end users.

How many personas and how much detail?

The number of personas created for any given interface varies depending on how broad the target audience is, while the level of detail provided in each persona depends on how much information the team was able to collect about their users. Typically, the team starts out by creating one persona for each different type of person in each user group resulting in a large number of personas. The second step is to reduce the number of personas by looking carefully at their objectives and needs and combining them wherever possible.

Evaluating the Quality of a Persona

If you can answer yes to the following questions, you can typically feel confident that your personas will be an effective tool:

  • Is the persona based on interviews with real end users (or, at a minimum, user experts)?
  • Does the persona evoke empathy by including a name, a photograph and a product-relevant narrative?
  • Does the persona appear realistic to people who interact with end users day-to-day?
  • Is each persona unique, having little in common with the other personas?
  • Does the persona include product-relevant high-level goals and include a quotation stating the key goal?
  • Is the quantity of personas small enough for the design team to remember the name of each one, with one of the personas identified as primary?
  • Can the development team use the persona as a practical tool to make design decisions?


Lifecycle: Requirements
Sources and contributors: 
Jennifer Carey
Released: 2011-03
© 2010 Usability Professionals Association