I'm freaking out! I've read more articles about personas than I can remember but there is one thing I can't seem to understand. And that is how do you group users into personas?

What methods and questions do you use to understand how to form user groups? All these articles seem to skim this bit and go directly into how to write a persona - you know, "Well, first you need an image, and a name and then specify if he's more of a cat person than a dog person etc, showing a 5 pages long description about this person. I get that. That's the easy part. What I wanna know is how to group visitors. The stage before this step.

Some articles seem to hint that a persona is based on the motive behind the visit, but if I ask 20 people why they have arrived and what tasks they want to perform I could get 20 different motives. It can't be right to create 20 personas in that case? Some articles states that a ux persona is su-hu-hu-hu-reley not the same thing as target groups or a already defined market segment. And they are not the same thing as a high level stakeholder such as a new client, existing client or a job seeker.

So I have no idea where to start and if you could help me explaining this to me like I'm 5 years old, you not only answer a question and get a lovley upvote, you're also preventing a guy from an early death (ok, that last part was a little exaggerated).

2 Answers 2


Grouping people's traits into personas is not "a step before", it is rather "a step after" the initial interviews.

As you probably already know, the persona should be probable, believable, consistent, have boundaries and so on... That means, persona is a representation of people who share similiar:

  • Goals
  • Needs
  • Problems
  • Thinking

The main problems with that are (mainly) two:

  • People do not directly speak about their needs
  • People usually mix the roles they act as

So, they would (for example) tell you what they would like to see or do but not why they need that representation of information or action. So, before you can recognize such needs as the same, you should first recognize the needs.

They would also, easily mix the roles they act as, because they mix it as easily in a real life. So (for example), they would tell you about their use of your "job portal" as a person who seeks for a job and a moment later, they would tell you how they use it as a person who wants to post a job ad. So again, it's your job to separate those behaviour into a separate personas with separate goals...

If you really, I mean really, encounter the 20 different people with 20 different motives, then you should refer to the vision of your product. Whom are you building it for? With limited resources you can not build a product for everyone, their motives may be contrary also. Your target and your vision should guide you when creating the personas.

Edit, case study type example:

Lets assume that people bruggle (a fictional verb). Our vision is to create a product which will help people who bruggle on their own.

We do research and initial interviews. It looks like most of the people can't bruggle alone, it is too complicated and they need professional help.

So we change the vision and decide to support such bruggler-helper relation. We adjust the group and continue the interviews. There are some small companies which help to bruggle and ex-professionals (or professionals) who do it off hours.

The interviewed people tend to mix their roles. One minute they are speaking about how they work in company, and the next minute they are speaking about how are they helping off-hours. Both roles have a common goal (or set of goals): to help the bruggler. It looks like a one-persona-situation. If you ask about their preferences, thinking, principles, you will probably get an answer related to one of the roles they are currently thinking about. It is difficult to realize there are two different mindsets in play, because interviewed person does not make such distinction (but when we do realize it, it becomes obvious...)

After interviews, it becomes clear: both professionals and companies, in order to generate enough income, need to work with multiple brugglers. One bruggle-helper may use our product but not all of his brugglers will. Since our product will have a significant impact on them and since we can not afford to miss such opportunity - we will be forced to create a persona for a bruggler who doesn't use our product but is in the circle of its influence.

And it goes on and on... Of course, not all of the personas are primary, but there are often a very strong reasons for creating one. I can not call it "one persona per motivation".

  • 1
    I can also describe a fictional (but also real) case study if it's not "like you are 5'yr old" enough. Aug 28, 2012 at 8:57
  • Please do. But in your job portal example, we are seeing two personas? The job seeker and the administrator? You are telling me that the creation of the personas comes after the interviews but shouldn't I figure out before the interviews begins that the job portal will be targeted against job seekers and administrators? Otherwise I don't know who to interview right? So I have to start by picking out some high level target groups? And then interview them about the goals, needs, problems and thinking? If I see a one or two patterns during the interviews I know that I have one or two personas? Aug 28, 2012 at 13:17
  • In job portal example, we are expecting to see the job seeker, the job poster (before the interviews). Then, we meet people, one of them can be a manager who posts the job ads on behalf of his company and seeks a job - so he mixes the roles. When we interview another group of people we could see groups of seekers: some search for a dream job for several months, some search for a job in the neighbourhood, some just want to use a portal to know the wages, etc. etc. And while you recognize the patterns, you decide what personas you want to create. Aug 28, 2012 at 18:51
  • Is it more understandable now? Should I expand my answer further? Aug 29, 2012 at 19:51
  • 1
    You know what? I think I got it! Thank you very much. Aug 29, 2012 at 20:10

“As a design tool, it is more important that a persona be precise than accurate. That is, it is more important to define the persona in great and specific detail than that the persona be the precisely correct one”. – Alan Cooper

Determine how many personas there may be (how to segment)

This step is all about taking your entire audience of users, and segmenting them into groups. Segmenting users is more difficult than it seems. When ever you segment an audience, no matter how informed or thorough the reasoning, you are always making semi-arbitrary decisions, and could just as well segment the audience in multiple different ways. What matters though is that you are choosing groups of people to focus on and prioritize. Focus is more important than accuracy at this point – though it may be difficult, don’t get hung up on not being imprecise or inaccurate. As long as you isolate aspects that are important to you and your business (differences among users that make a difference), you will have succeeded. It is the discussions about segmenting users, that drives out what we know.

To find out more about personas and how to create them, check out http://slowmtn.tumblr.com

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.