What is a Persona?

Personas are a tool commonly used in UX design. Invented in the 80’s by Alan Cooper - they help teams create products with a specific user (or users) in mind. They help product teams by providing a frame of reference for prioritisation and design decisions. Personas can also help with product strategy and go-to-market plans.

Alan Cooper was also the father of Visual Basic → the programming language I was taught whilst at school!

Each persona is chosen to represent a cluster of the user base. Persona descriptions can include:

  • Fictional Name
  • Job Title / Responsibilities (If appropriate)
  • Behaviour Patterns
  • Goals (and tasks they are trying to complete using your product)
  • Skills
  • Attitudes
  • Background information (or demographics such as age, education, ethnicity, and family status)
  • Operating Environments (physical, social, technological)
  • Issues or pain points
  • A picture / or imagery

Personas are deliberately chosen to reflect differences between clusters of users (but also the similarities of characteristics within clusters) highlighting the diversity of their needs. Together, the personas should account for the majority of the expected user base.

Personas should be based on real user research. If you haven’t yet done research and you’re basing your personas on assumptions, it’s best practice to call them ‘Proto Personas’.

Example for a Supermarket customer

Cost Conscious Carl
<Photo Here> <Fictional Personal Details Here>
Reduce the price of the weekly shop
Behaviour Patterns
Compares prices across shops Uses vouchers heavily
Skeptical of promotions Not loyal to any supermarket Appreciates high quality produce
Shops off-peak Shops across supermarkets
Background Information
Over 65 Retired - on a pension

Personas are typically presented on a single slide or A5 piece of card. Teams add some fictional detail, to create a more relatable, believable and memorable narrative around the persona.

Personas help teams understand who they’re building for. They’re a tool to kickstart empathy. The hope is that team members will internalise the different needs and expectations of their main customer groups → and stop designing for themselves.

Empathise → Define → Ideate → Prototype → Test The Design Thinking Process

Personas are powerful (and risky) because they’re reductive.

Products should solve a customer need → that requires the customer to be defined. Personas add value because they provide focus, and help prioritisation discussions. BUT everyone is an individual and people are complex. Personas are also a reduction in fidelity. It’s important therefore that they’re grounded in research, and aren’t seen as a substitute for testing.

It’s easier to empathise with people you know, than large groups that you don’t.

Fundraising campaigns that focus on individuals and emotion are more successful than more rational campaigns that focus on statistics. Initially at Facebook the early engineers were college students → building a product for college students. To get to a billion users though - they had to enlist design and research to help understand the needs of different populations.

Personas don’t need to be individuals. I remember Tesco had a set of household personas - some reflected families, others individuals. Roshni was a time poor young professional with a growing income.


Personas can help your team empathise with users that have different access needs. The Government Digital Service (GOV.UK) has created 7 accessibility personas, each with different access needs. Use them to kickstart conversations about accessibility in your team - but not as a substitute for accessibility testing.

What’s the difference between Archetypes and Personas?

They’re functionally similar → they’re both a tool to represent the same data and insights about users. Personas have a human face, and fictional information. Archetypes don’t. Deploy archetypes if the team are skeptical about personas or personas already exist elsewhere in the company - but they don’t serve the same purpose of your product / project.