In marketing
Marketing is the process used to determine what products or services may be of interest to customers, and the strategy to use in sales, communications and business development. It generates the strategy that underlies sales techniques, business communication, and business developments...

 and user-centered design
User-centered design
In broad terms, user-centered design or pervasive usability is a design philosophy and a process in which the needs, wants, and limitations of end users of a product are given extensive attention at each stage of the design process...

, personas are fictional characters created to represent the different user types within a targeted demographic, attitude and/or behavior set that might use a site, brand or product in a similar way. Personas are a tool or method of market segmentation. The term persona is used widely in online and technology applications as well as in advertising, where other terms such as pen portraits may also be used.

Personas are useful in considering the goals, desires, and limitations of brand
The American Marketing Association defines a brand as a "Name, term, design, symbol, or any other feature that identifies one seller's good or service as distinct from those of other sellers."...

 buyers and users in order to help to guide decisions about a service, product or interaction space such as features, interactions, and visual design of a website. Personas are also used as part of a user-centered design
User-centered design
In broad terms, user-centered design or pervasive usability is a design philosophy and a process in which the needs, wants, and limitations of end users of a product are given extensive attention at each stage of the design process...

 process for designing software and are also considered a part of interaction design (IxD)
Interaction design
In design, human–computer interaction, and software development, interaction design, often abbreviated IxD, is "the practice of designing interactive digital products, environments, systems, and services." Like many other design fields interaction design also has an interest in form but its main...

, have been used in industrial design
Industrial design
Industrial design is the use of a combination of applied art and applied science to improve the aesthetics, ergonomics, and usability of a product, but it may also be used to improve the product's marketability and production...

 and more recently for online marketing purposes.

A user persona is a representation of the goals and behavior of a real group of user
User may refer to:* User , one who employs the services provided by a telecommunication system* User , one who uses drugs* User * End-user, one who uses a product in economics and commerce...

s. In most cases, personas are synthesized from data collected from interviews with users. They are captured in 1–2 page descriptions that include behavior patterns, goals, skills, attitudes, and environment, with a few fictional personal details to make the persona a realistic character. For each product, more than one persona is usually created, but one persona should always be the primary focus for the design.


The concept of understanding customer segments as communities with coherent identity was developed in 1993-4 by Angus Jenkinson and internationally adopted by OgilvyOne with clients using the name CustomerPrints as "day-in-the-life archetype descriptions" . Creating imaginal or fictional characters to represent these customer segments or communities followed. Jenkinson's approach was to describe an imaginal character in their real interface, behaviour and attitudes with the brand, and the idea was initially realized with Michael Jacobs in a series of studies. In 1997 the Ogilvy global knowledge management system, Truffles, described the concept as follows: "Each strong brand has a tribe of people who share affinity with the brand’s values. This universe typically divides into a number of different communities within which there are the same or very similar buying behaviours, and whose personality and characteristics towards the brand (product or service) can be understood in terms of common values, attitudes and assumptions. CustomerPrints are descriptions that capture the living essence of these distinct groups of customers."
Parallel to this Alan Cooper
Alan Cooper
Alan Cooper is known for his role in humanizing technology through his groundbreaking work in software design. Widely recognized as the “Father of Visual Basic," Cooper is the author of the books, About Face 3: The Essentials of Interaction Design and The Inmates Are Running the Asylum: Why...

, a noted pioneer software developer, developed a related concept. From 1995 he became engaged with how a specific rather than generalized users would use and interface with software. The technique was popularized for the online business and technology community in his 1999 book The Inmates are Running the Asylum. In this book, Cooper outlines the general characteristics, uses and best practices for creating personas, recommending that software be designed for single archetypal users.


According to Pruitt and Adlin (2006), the use of personas offers several benefits in product development (cf. Grudin and Pruitt, 2002; Cooper, 1999). Personas are said to be cognitively compelling because they put a personal human face on otherwise abstract data about customers. By thinking about the needs of a fictional persona, designers may be better able to infer what a real person might need. Such inference may assist with brainstorming, use case specification, and features definition. Pruitt and Adlin argue that personas are easy to communicate to engineering teams and thus allow engineers, developers, and others to absorb customer data in a palatable format. They present several examples of personas used for purposes of communication in various development projects.

Personas also help prevent some common design pitfalls which may otherwise be easy to fall into. The first is designing for what Cooper calls "The Elastic User" — by which he means that while making product decisions different stakeholders
Stakeholder theory
The stakeholder theory is a theory of organizational management and business ethics that addresses morals and values in managing an organization. It was originally detailed by R...

 may define the 'user' according to their convenience. Defining personas helps the team have a shared understanding of the real users in terms of their goals, capabilities and contexts. Personas also help prevent "self referential design" when the designer or developer may unconsciously project their own mental models on the product design which may be very different from that of the target user population. Personas also provide a reality check by helping designers keep the focus of the design on cases that are most likely to be encountered for the target users and not on edge cases which usually won't happen for the target population. According to Cooper, edge cases which should naturally be handled properly should not become the design focus (Cooper, 1999).

The benefits are summarized as (Cooper, 1999):
  • Help team members share a specific, consistent understanding of various audience groups. Data about the groups can be put in a proper context and can be understood and remembered in coherent stories.
  • Proposed solutions can be guided by how well they meet the needs of individual user personas. Features can be prioritized based on how well they address the needs of one or more personas.
  • Provide a human "face" so as to focus empathy on the persons represented by the demographics.

Personas based upon ethnographic research

Some designers feel that personas should be based on ethnographic research into users and should not be based purely on the creator's imagination. The use of ethnographic research helps the creation of a number of archetype users that can be used to develop products that deliver positive user experiences. By feeding in real data, ethnographic research allows design teams to avoid generating stereotypical users that may bear no relation to the actual user’s reality.


Criticism of personas falls into three general categories: analysis of the underlying logic, concerns about practical implementation, and empirical results
The word empirical denotes information gained by means of observation or experimentation. Empirical data are data produced by an experiment or observation....

 (cf. Chapman and Milham, 2006; Rönkkö, 2005).

In terms of scientific logic, it has been argued that because personas are fictional, they have no clear relationship to real customer data and therefore cannot be considered scientific. Chapman & Milham (2006) described the purported flaws in considering personas as a scientific research method. They argued that there is no procedure to work reliably from given data to specific personas, and thus such a process is not subject to the scientific method of reproducible research.

For practical implementation, Portigal (2008) has claimed that personas give a "cloak of smug customer-centricity" while actually distancing a team from engagement with real users and their needs. He argued that real-world stories and customer immersion would better serve designers to understand the needs of users.

In empirical results, the research to date has offered soft metrics for the success of personas, such as anecdotal feedback from stakeholders. Rönkkö (2005) has described how team politics and other organizational issues led to limitations of the personas method in one set of projects. Chapman, Love, Milham, Elrif, and Alford (2008) have demonstrated with survey data that descriptions with more than a few attributes (e.g., such as a persona) are likely to describe very few if any real people. They argued that personas cannot be assumed to be descriptive of actual customers.

A study conducted by Long (2009) claimed support for Cooper, Pruitt et al. in the use of personas. In a partially-controlled study, a group of students were asked to solve a design brief; two groups used personas while one group did not. The students who used personas were awarded higher course evaluations that the group who did not. The finding suggests that students using personas produced designs with better usability attributes than the students that did not use personas. The study also suggests that using personas can improve communication between design teams and facilitate more constructive and user-focused design discussion.

See also

  • Scenario (computing)
    Scenario (computing)
    In computing, a scenario is a narrative describing foreseeable interactions of types of users and the system. Scenarios include information about goals, expectations, motivations, actions and reactions...

  • Use case
    Use case
    In software engineering and systems engineering, a use case is a description of steps or actions between a user and a software system which leads the user towards something useful...

  • Market segment
    Market segment
    Market segmentation is a concept in economics and marketing. A market segment is a sub-set of a market made up of people or organizations with one or more characteristics that cause them to demand similar product and/or services based on qualities of those products such as price or function...

  • Personalization
    Personalization involves using technology to accommodate the differences between individuals. Once confined mainly to the Web, it is increasingly becoming a factor in education, health care Personalization involves using technology to accommodate the differences between individuals. Once confined...

  • Dave and Sue

External links

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