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What: Personas are used as a technique to summarise information on users in a clear manner.
A persona is a concrete proposed fictional user, the personification of a group of people with common characteristics in terms of behaviour and goals, an user type if you will. A persona is like a real person, with a name, relatives, character traits, dreams and frustrations.

When: You can use personas if you want to present known data about stakeholders in a concrete, clear and more visual manner to ensure that all the team members have a clear picture of who the stakeholder or user is in fact, the type of people it concerns.

Advantages: Personas help team members empathize much more effectively with the user’s living environment and they can easily maintain the focus on the user during the design process.

Knowledge about the user constitutes the starting point for creating a good persona. This could be an end-user, but also anyone who comes into contact with the product or the service. You should limit the number of personas in order to maintain the focus.

- Put together the team that will develop the personas: designers, marketers, sales managers. etc.
- With your team, create a couple of test personas in order to get acquainted with the technique and its capabilities.

Step 1 – Choose a few typical users: people with a recognisable pattern of behaviour. For this, think of some concrete customers and check with other team members that they also know or recognise such individuals.

Step 2 – Give them a ‘face’: together, look for a picture of a person who looks like the type of user you have in mind (preferably not a stock photo). Find a fitting name; give the persona an age and a family status. You can also add some typical features such as hobbies, work, education, car, etc.

Step 3 – Collect data: discuss your opinions, assumptions and knowledge about this kind of customers; how they behave in relation to your product or service; what they get excited about; what frustrates them, etc. Translate this into some kind of ‘life story’ for the persona, especially within the context of your product or service.

Step 4 – Create profiles and hang them up: process all the data into one large profile card per persona, as visually as possible. Make posters even, in order to display a visual representation of the users for everyone in the company to see. From now on, whenever you make decision, you should think ‘How would Catherine like that?’ ‘Would Marc find it equally as important as Catherine?’ It makes talking about users much easier.

Step 5 – Create strategic personas: these personas are now purely hypothetical, based on the information and assumptions shared by the team. If you want to use the tool for important decisions, you need to conduct the exercise again in a reasoned way and also incorporate into it data from real users.

Create strategic personas
In their book The persona lifecycle, Pruit and Adlin presented a simple step-by-step plan for the structured development of personas:

Step 1 – Identify the different types of users (categories): First, clearly define who the user is and who the other interested parties (stakeholders) may be. Initially, you can look at different roles (e.g., parents, teacher), but don’t just translate roles into personas.

Step 2 – Collect data about the users: there are two types of data, i.e. primary data and secondary data. The quality of the data is what makes the difference. Primary data is information, facts that are gathered directly from the stakeholders, with other HCD tools such as interview, observation or diary for instance. The data can also be demographics. Secondary data is data that is not directly supplied by the stakeholders, like the opinions of sales or service staff, or assumptions or beliefs shared in a company.
Personas developed with primary data are data-driven personas, while personas created with secondary data are hypothetical personas. Try to work with data-driven personas. However, due to time constraints or for budgetary reasons this is not always possible. If that is the case, it is better to work with hypothetical personas to make sure that the team handles the assumptions knowingly and that there is good communication about the personas.

Step 3 – Process the collected data
Structurize the data; recognise the patterns it contains, and subdivide the users into groups according to these patterns. You can use an affinity diagram for that purpose. You can specify on Post-its each individual characteristic within a category of users and group the similarities in clusters.

Step 4 – Identify subcategories and create skeletons
The clusters of information found in Step 3 are now subcategories within the categories defined in Step 1. These subcategories are groups of people who share similarities, e.g. a similar behaviour, or other common features that may prove important in the context of the design. You can now build the skeletons: a summary of the main characteristics of each subcategory. All skeletons should contain comparable information.

Step 5 – Skeletons’ order of priority
Rank the skeletons based on their importance for the design. You end up with a limited set of skeletons that are important for the design. Aspects likely to play a part here include:
- Size of the market: how big is the market represented by the skeleton?
- Frequency of use: how often does the skeleton use a product?
- Social characteristics
- Socio-demographic characteristics
- The user’s goals

Step 6 – Turn skeletons into personas
Add individual details to the data from the skeleton until you obtain the description of a person. The persona gets a name, a profession, hobbies, etc. Also add a photo portraying the persona. For this, use images from the real world; avoid stock photos.

Pruitt, J. & Adalin, T., The persona lifecycle (2006)
* Cooper, A., The inmates are running the asylum (1995)
* Cooper, A., About Face 2.0, the Essentials of Interaction Design
* Grudin, J. & Pruitt, J., Personas, Participatory Design and Product Development: An Infrastructure for Engagement
* Olsen, G., Persona Creation and Usage Toolkit (2004)
* Freydenson, E., Bringing Your Personas to Life in Real Life
* Christine Perfetti, Personas: Matching a Design to the Users’ Goals