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Like many of you I'm sure, I consider the creation of user personas to be a crucial part of the UCD process, particularly when starting a new project.

While we all have our own techniques and styles for writing personas, I've often wondered what the best methods are for sourcing appropriate photographs to attach to each of these profiles? While it's an insignificant part of the creation process itself, I often find that a good photo is key to making the persona believable and convincing.

When working with fashion brands this generally isn't too much of a problem; I'll head to Getty images or i-stock photo etc... But when working with companies that actually interact with 'everyday people', what do you find are the best methods of sourcing royalty-free photographs of people who don't look like they came straight out of a soap commercial?

Also to extend this question, what other techniques do you employ in order to make your user personas more believable?

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Not sure in sourcing photos but names and other details can be generated with fakenamegenerator.com - I use it myself and I love it –  user8848 Oct 5 '11 at 11:14
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3 Answers

The ones you mention, and stock.xchng should generally suffice - searching for 'natural looking' and 'passport photo' usually gets something less 'bubbly'.

Also try searching for specific professions or roles - like nurse, shop assistant, scientist, etc.

[EDIT] Believability:

More detail generally means more realistic - a little biography, something that tells a story and brings the information together.

Another technique for ensuring that personas are more believable is to include one real person, someone you know, in amongst the other personas as it allows you to keep a more grounded perspective when looking at the group as a whole. [This sounds like - but is NOT in contradiction to my answer to another question recently where I was saying you shouldn't use real people instead of your personas :)]

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Flickr advanced search allows to restrict the sarch according to Creative Commons criteria (e.g., usable for commercial purposes). Due to the diversity of people using flickr you can find many different kinds of pictures using the search term 'portrait' for example:

http://www.flickr.com/search/?q=portrait&l=commderiv&ct=0&mt=all&adv=1

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OK, I must disclose upfront that this guy is a friend of mine, but this month he's launching a website that's supposed to make the whole process of working with personas easier. One of the features is just what you asked about - access to a very large set of portrait photos taken around the world, explicitly for this purpose (with agreement signed by the model). It's over at www.usersbox.com.

P.S. If you think this is unduly promotional, feel free to flag the answer and I'll take it down.

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Looks really cool, can't wait to see it when it's up and running! –  Chris Myhill Jul 5 '11 at 14:19
    
seems like it still isn't public. Bummer –  Brenden Oct 2 '13 at 18:29
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