A persona is a description of a user that details their characteristics, pain points, and sometimes some personality traits, intended to serve as an archetype for real uses to help teams anticipate user needs.


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Why are personas important?

In 1999, Alan Cooper popularized the concept of personas in his book; The Inmates are Running the Asylum.

Personas are, as he puts it, “... a precise description of our user and what he wishes to accomplish.” Rather than going out and talking to actual users about every little detail, and taking their feedback literally, “...we discover them as a byproduct of the investigation process.” Instead of building for “averages,” we conduct research to understand user archetypes and build a precise and accurate representation of someone who represents the unique combination of needs, expectations, and behaviors that we are targeting.

Since Cooper formalized personas, researchers, developers, designers, and marketers alike have made use of his model to make sure their users have a seat at the table during the design and development process.

Personas have also proven especially crucial as we’ve integrated more inclusive design principles and processes into our work. Personas help extend our view of users to encompass people who represent the full range of human perspectives so we can create services, products, environments, etc. that address those needs. Surfacing these needs pushes us to create products that are more usable for everyone.

What are the different types of personas?

Over time, several different approaches to defining and implementing personas have evolved. Remember, personas are more than just people. They’re fictitious models of a target user’s real behaviors, motivations, attitudes, goals, and more, related to your business’ product or experience.

1. Goal-driven user persona

The goal-driven persona is most likely the concept that people are most familiar with. (It’s also based upon the perspectives of Alan Cooper, mentioned earlier.) It gets right to the point and focuses on what the user wants to do with your product or experience. In other words, your business has a product that people use, so the objective of this persona is to examine how a user would go about achieving their objectives while interacting with your product.

2. Role-based user persona

The role-based persona is also behavior-focused, but slightly different. This persona seeks to examine the role(s) that users typically play in real life, their organization, community, and the like. Examining the roles people play in their everyday lives can help inform product and design decisions.

3. Engaging user persona

The engaging persona is different from the others because the idea is to create a 3D rendering of a user through the use of personas. It might sound unusual, but the more people engage with the persona and actually perceive them as real, the more likely they are to consider them during the design process. This persona examines the emotions of the user and uses their psychology to inform decisions for the task at hand.

How qualitative feedback enriches user personas

User personas are grounded in research—both qualitative and quantitative. Typically, analytics and surveys support a better understanding of how many and who. This data can be used to build personas of segments that represent many users and provide demographics that help to inform the scope and magnitude of trends and patterns you see in data. 

However, interviews address why and how. The narrative and storytelling facilitated through 1:1 conversation help drive the creation of a precise and accurate portrait of users as well as scenarios that expose contexts of use.