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I am new to UX and just started using personas for validating the UX of an existing project, then I was pointed out the fact that since my 'personas' were created from observing existing users instead of interviewing users, they are 'archetypes'. Read: Archetypes not Personas

Now, term and creation method aside, how are they different? Do they serve different purposes?

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I don't really agree with some of the content in the link you have provided.

Personas (are not superman)

Personas are not fictional per-se. A good persona will be heavily based on empirical research though their bio and photo may be fictional. This is to conceal the identity of the research participants. Regardless, the fictional part is intended to make the character believable - not as a key design guide. Having said that, the so called 'fictional' details are very often a mere twist on real biographic data.

To quote Alan Cooper (from About Face 3, chapter 5 - Modelling Users: Personas and Goals):

Personas are not real people, but they are based on the behaviours and motivations of real people we have observed and represent them throughout the design process. They are composite archetypes based on behavioural data gathered from the many actual users encountered in ethnographic interviews.

In addition (and with reference to Copper's definition), I'm not sure why the author of the article assumes personas are characteristics-centred, whereas archetypes are behaviour-centred. A persona will be of little to no use if you take out behavioural elements from it.


My Mac dictionary defines archetype as:

A very typical example of a certain person or thing.

For instance, you can say "The guy we interviewed yesterday is an archetype of an elderly user".

An archetype is someone who exists that fits a set of known characteristics. For a persona, these characteristics are initially unknown and thus derived from research.

Observing vs Interviewing

You can identify behaviour patterns using either. Observations are what centred but they often fail to provide the why. Interviews, on the contrary, are better in revealing the why but may be problematic in revealing the what or how (see Nielsens's famous First Rule of Usability? Don't Listen to Users).

With this in mind, there is some sense saying that observations are more likely to help identifying that person X is a typical example of Y (we typically identify archetypes through observations), while an interview may yield data more appropriate for personas. But this is not set in stone and depends on what exactly is being investigated.

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+1 Very clear distinction provided in your explanation. – Pdxd Mar 27 '14 at 14:56


Is the common representation of a group, it's basic objectives and motivations, it's usual goals, their typical behaviour.


Is a specific individual, who has traits from one or more archetypes, but also has specific motivations, constrains, goals, interests and behaviours.

Archetype is a more recent word in this area of work, I'm not sure who started using it, but considering that personas where used many times as archetypes, it's normal that at some point the distinction had to arise.

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I do not agree with the linked article. If that designer (Paul Farino) finds archetypes more useful for his work, that is his choice. This is how I like to work:

I create a set of user personas - usually less than 5, and label them #1-#5 in terms of their importance to the success of your product. The persona looks like a profile of a real person. I even go and find a photo of a person who embodies the persona. I put all of a persona's information on a single data sheet and have fun laying out their stats graphically.

These are based on the products target customers, and tested against reality. Meaning, they start as assumptions, and then are adjusted a couple times a year as we interview and experience our customers' behaviors and feedback.

How I use archetypes is in finding the brand archetype that best serves the whole group of personas. A great book on brand archetypes is Archetypes in Branding. When you have all your personas in front of you - their needs, behaviors, and abilities, the archetype that best serves them becomes easier to determine. I see an archetype as a recognizable role that your product can play in your user's life. For example, sometimes we need a HERO, like 5-Hour Energy, to save us. Sometimes we need a DETECTIVE, like Google, to find what we're looking for.

So I like to use the classical understanding of user personas to move toward knowing our brand archetype.

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