Personas! What are they good for?

Amelia Schmidt


Who am I?

  • UX lead
  • Passionate about research and testing
  • Writer, editor, content strategist
  • Front-end engineer
  • Product designer & entrepreneur
  • Teacher (General Assembly workshops)


What do people mean when they use this word?


  • A way to describe the behaviour of a type of user I have assumed existed
  • A way to describe a user group we have identified in marketing
  • A way to describe a client or stakeholder who is giving us money
  • An actual person I met once who had some opinions

What do I mean?

  • A persona is a summary of user research
  • A persona is presented in a simple format that is easily referenced and easily memorised
  • A persona describes a person who represents a significant user type
  • A persona has specific, measurable goals

Why do we make personas?

  • To communicate findings from our user research
  • To remind us of our user's goals throughout the design and development process
  • To build empathy
  • To use the power of narrative
  • To inform further research and testing
  • To help us focus on solving real problems

Common mistakes

Persona is imaginary

Step 1: do user interviews

(Step 0: make a hypothesis)

Step 2: Do other research


Focus groups


Data analysis

Step 3: collate

Step 4: create

  • Should you create more than one persona?
  • What problems does your user face (that you are trying to solve)?
  • What are they trying to achieve (ideally)?
  • What other things are they doing/seeing/feeling?
  • What things do all the users you spoke to have in common?

Step 5: do not ignore

  • Don't file away
  • Print it out, laminate it, stick it on a wall
  • Have it with you in meetings
  • Have it near the engineers
  • Have it visible to the whole team
  • Refer to it frequently
  • Use it to win arguments
  • Use it to defend the user

Persona is too specific

Be specific about the right things

Be specific about the right things

  • What does your persona user want to achieve?
  • What problem does your persona user want to solve?
  • What aspects of them are specifically shared by both them and other users?
  • What specific things about them is your product trying to address?

Not the wrong things

  • Why is it relevant to your project what exact age someone is?
  • Why is it relevant what their exact job title is?
  • Why is it relevant what college their child went to?
  • Why is it relevant what type of burrito they like?

What you are specific about depends on what you're building

Sometimes specific things make a persona more "relatable"

Remember your mission.

Persona is too general


Human being

Age 20-60

Works in an office

Has two thumbs

"I just wanna drink beers

and have fun! Also, I like


Pain points

  1. Wishes he could cook better
  2. Wants to be attractive
  3. Can never tell with daylight savings whether it's forward or back
  4. Hates it when fruit is too sour 


Mark works at a desk and buys lunch sometimes. He wears clothing and also has a car. He lives in a city. His friends think he's cool, mostly.


Relevant key facts

Ask yourself:

"Who does this persona not represent?"

Don't copypasta

Key facts on one persona you find online (or in your last project) might not be right for you this time

"You can't please all the people all the time."

(Miranda Richardson)

"It's better to do one thing well than ten things poorly."

(Heather Hart)

Don't create the lowest common denominator

(It's usually not very good)

Persona is too static

Proto personas: made to be validated




Sketch and mini-bio

Relevant key facts

Pains and gains


Validating means sometimes putting things in the bin

AKA Disproving your hypothesis

You can only validate by testing



Persona is too beautiful for this world

Use a photo of a real person even if the person is not "exactly" them

Stock photos encourage us to pretend the user is "too made up" or "too abstract"


Don't spend hours making a persona in Photoshop

We get it. You're a designer.

It's more important to include the right information (and save your design for when it's really needed)

Persona is used as the sole UX artifact

Sadly, personas are not very scientific 

They are summaries, bargaining chips, memory-joggers

You should be doing other research


Focus groups


Data analysis

You should be producing other artifacts







Persona was made for the wrong purpose

Marketing/buyer personas

  • Focussed on demographic information, buying motivations and concerns, shopping or buying preferences, marketing message, media habits etc
  • Typically described as a range (e.g., 30—45 years old, live in USA or Canada)
  • Describes customer behaviour but do not get to the why behind it
  • Not very useful for product development - but good for marketing


  • Come from the Lean UX approach
  • Made before you have done any user research
  • They are a hypothesis or a guess
  • Unvalidated
  • Can still be useful for product development but should be validated

Design personas

  • Focussed on user goals, current behaviour, and pain points

  • They are based on field research and real people.

  • Describes why people do what they do

  • Helps you remember the end user throughout the entire product development process

  • Good for communicating research insights

  • Helps avoid the elastic user and self-referential design

Persona is in a drawer

Why go to all the effort of making a persona

and never look at it again?

Where to put personas

  • On the table in an internal team meeting
  • On the table when meeting with clients/stakeholders
  • On the wall where other parts of the company can see it
  • On the wall where your engineers can see it
  • On the wall where you (the designer) can see it
  • On your nightstand so you never forget your users

Personas! What are they good for?


OO Engineers think in nouns

Personas should be focussed around verbs

Bonus points:

Design personas in a workshop for supercharged empathy powers


Everyone loves a story

Your persona = your protagonist

Benefits of stories

  • People remember them easily
  • They activate empathy
  • They provide context for motivations
  • They encourage conversation
  • They give requirements meaning and purpose

Content strategy

Especially if you have more than one "primary" persona

User flows (a map of verbs)

Recruiting users for usability testing

But remember

  • Your user research interviewees and your persona(s) are not your only users
  • Usability testing should include as diverse a group as is relevant
  • Consider your persona your "primary" but also test with secondary and tertiary types of users
  • Inclusive design is your goal

Helping others see the value of UX decisions

"Our primary persona Anne obviously can't achieve her goals."

Keeping your eyes on the prize

Could your persona be leaner?

Attachment to the past

AKA Worried because the last project you did, the person's model of car was relevant somehow

Fear of the future

AKA Nervous that you need lots of information in your personas because more is more

Jobs To Be Done

"The basic premise is that people hire products to get a job done. If you can uncover the job, it puts you in the right context for creating a solution."

Write a job story



As a ...



I want to...



So I can....

The most important part of a persona:

Goals and pain points

(the verby bits)

The most important use for a persona:

Sparking conversations

Learn more












In intro to UX personas

By Amelia Schmidt

In intro to UX personas

Originally prepared for Be Responsive meetup Melbourne 2016

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