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So I'm a little confused between these 4 types of personas I've discovered in books and articles.

  1. Proto-persona
  2. Ad hoc Persona
  3. Data-driven Persona
  4. Lean Persona

What are the differences between them?

Thank you in advance,

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I agree that all the different names are confusing! The good news is that there are basically only 2 types of persona:

  1. Data-driven
  2. Proto/Ad hoc/Lean

The difference is to do with how the personas are created.

In an ideal world, you start with a blank sheet of paper, make no assumptions, and conduct extensive user research. You talk to lots of real-world users, then use the data that you collect from that research to construct your personas. This is the data-driven approach and it's how personas should - ideally - be created.

The problem is that many organisations don't have the time, budget or desire to do this kind of research. Rather than stall the UX process or have no personas at all, you can use a different approach, which is where proto or ad hoc personas come in. The process of creating this type of persona is described in detail in the book Lean UX by Jeff Gothelf and Josh Seiden, so they're sometimes called lean personas.

These personas are normally created not by doing user research, but by collecting information from inside the organisation. For example, you hold a workshop with various stakeholders and ask them to describe their customers. Based on their input, you then create some 'rough' personas.

The critical thing about these rough personas is that they are not research led and therefore contain assumptions that may or may not be accurate. They can be a very useful tool, but should always be treated with caution and verified by research. Often a good approach is to start with some proto-personas to get the design process rolling and get stakeholder buy-in, then conduct research over time to test whether they're accurate and refine them as you go.

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    +1 not a bad way to start your contribution to UXSE! Just wondering if a lean or ad hoc persona can't be data-driven as well since it is still developed through collecting information? – Michael Lai Feb 19 '20 at 22:11
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I don't think there is an exact definition, but each of the instances or types you mentioned (keeping in mind that they come from different combinations of sources) relate to some characteristic or property of a persona, so let's deal with that first.

Definition of a Persona - from NNg website:

A persona is a fictional, yet realistic, description of a typical or target user of the product. A persona is an archetype instead of an actual living human, but personas should be described as if they were real people.

So then we can explain each of the following based on that definition:

  1. Proto-persona is like a prototype of a persona, perhaps a fancy way of saying a rough draft version that might not have actual user research or data but is in the same format.
  2. Ad hoc persona suggests that it is something that is created on the fly as part of a particular set of design activities rather than something pre-planned, or added to (or modified from existing personas) as required in the project.
  3. Data-driven persona suggest that the bulk of the information is derived from quantitative data (e.g. Google Analytics or Facebook demographics data) rather than qualitative information (like 1-on-1 interviews).
  4. Lean persona is probably some derviative or variation of a more detailed persona that contains additional contextual information that might be useful for a broader or specific audience, whereas a lean persona may contain just essential or key details (e.g. used in a pitch deck rather than design process).

Hope that helps.

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