What are personas? How do we use personas in design thinking? And how can personas help design thinkers improve their business concepts? These are relevant questions that we will try to address in this and the next weeks. While their use may sometimes be challenging, personas are central to design thinking and its quest to empathetically understand the needs of users. A persona is a short profile of an archetypical user: Personas are not specific users but rather ideal types that are built upon observation of multiple users. Their purpose is to create realistic representations of users. As explained by Goltz (1994): “A persona is depicted as a specific person but is not a real individual; rather, it is synthesized from observations of many people. Each persona represents a significant portion of people in the real world and enables the designer to focus on a manageable and memorable cast of characters”.

The development of personas is rooted in research, particularly in observation of users. While there are no recipes for developing personas, engaging in the following activities may prove useful to make the shift from research to personas:

  • Look for patterns that are unique or common to observed users, and use such patterns to group observed users.
  • Based on the above patterns, develop ‘rough personas’ (or ‘archetypical models’) that represent your user groups.
  • Refine the ‘rough personas’ through conversation with other members of the design team as well as with users.
  • Put the personas into use by creating scenarios – i.e., narratives that describe how the personas behave.
  • Iterate.

In order to be effective for businesses (and start-ups in particular), personas are never used in isolation but rather are part of a wider process that sets out to address both the users’ and the business needs (aka ‘goal-directed design’). Also, it is important to note that personas are not a ‘panacea’ to create business solutions. Rather, they are tools – their effectiveness depends on use.

Experiment with the development of personas and consult the following useful resources:

A Closer Look At Personas: What They Are And How They Work (Part 1)

Personas, Journey Mapping & thoughts on implementing Design Thinking

The persona core poster – a service design tool

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