There are a few questions here about personas, and research methods that you might use in order to create them, (some of which I've answered at length). Examples include:

However, I have an exciting opportunity to create a set of personas less directly connected to the users themselves. More specifically, the personas relate to:

  • A department within an organisation, as distinct from other departments
  • Each set of product lines within that department
  • Individual products within those product lines

There are of course real people involved in the department, the products, etc. There are those that work in the organisation, those that develop the products, and those that use the products, but the personas are not about those people.

The intention is to drive future development and design in a consistent manner within a division and across products. It's not as focused or directed as a style guide - it's like a persona for a user experience, that covers all touchpoints.

For example, these personas could anthropomorphise elements into human traits and characteristics, or they might communicate through human emotional channels like colour, shape, art, elements of nature, sound, voice, tone, music.

We can use some elements of traditional persona research. For example, interviewing stakeholders is ok, but ethnographic research is out. We can validate the persona with real product users to see if they identify them with the product, but obviously can't ask the products if they identify with its own persona.

So what alternative or additional tools and methods could we use to create and validate such personas.

  • +1 Is it about creating a persona for a more fuzzy context than usual? Like on a higher level than one is used to? In my mind this is usually done by creating a set of persona's, each differing in their attributes, but all coming together in their usage, to calculate a relevant user range? I apologize if I read you wrong. Commented Dec 6, 2012 at 11:03
  • @AndroidHustle - yes definitely fuzzier than normal. Definitely on a higher level. Here's an example of Aarron Walter's design persona for MailChimp which kind of goes along the right sort of lines, except that for a product line, you go up a level, and for department personas, you go up another level, but at the bottom, the design mindset is that combined inheritance from all levels of the personas. Does this make any sense? ;-) Commented Dec 6, 2012 at 11:15
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    Yea, I get the logical structure of how a persona with these prerequisites is hypothetically formed. However, I have a hard time seeing how it can be practically applicable in a real world scenario since, in my mind, it feels as the persona has to be defined in a very abstract way to cover such an area as you describe, and therefore hard to later apply in a design process. Commented Dec 6, 2012 at 13:52
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    Maybe a 'Mood Board' would be a more descriptive term than Persona here, although it doesn't really capture the essence of research and fact finding that we know goes into the make up of a User Persona? Commented Dec 6, 2012 at 14:20
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    "How would you create and validate personas for something that is not a person?" - isn't that, actually, what all personas are? Personas help with developing user experiences of an artifact. The only difference I see to developing, for example, personas for an intranet scenario is that it is hard to define how someone uses a "department" or "organisation" - as compared to a product.
    – kontur
    Commented Dec 28, 2012 at 15:06

6 Answers 6


I would probably not call anthropomorphous objects 'personas', but I think I see where you are going. Two things first:

  • I would normally expect a product 'personality' to be the result of a branding idea/process and not the other way around (brand is friendly > product is friendly).

  • My background is not in marketing but in social sciences.

Two interesting research pieces you might have checked already are On Seeing Human: A Three-Factor Theory of Anthropomorphism and Pushing the Envelope of Brand and Personality: Antecedents and Moderators of Anthropomorphized Brands. The second one is based on the first, but applies the 3 principles to anthropomorphized brands.

Anthropomorphism describes the tendency to imbue the real or imagined behavior of nonhuman agents with humanlike characteristics, motivations, intentions, or emotions.

Epley's article describes three psychological determinants to our tendency to anthropomorphize: the accessibility and applicability of anthropocentric knowledge (elicited agent knowledge), the motivation to explain and understand the behavior of other agents (effectance motivation), and the desire for social contact and affiliation (sociality motivation).

Levy (1985) and Plummer (1985) provide evidence that consumers easily view brands as possessing human characteristics. The tendency for consumers to utilize brands as symbols in expressing one’s self-concept arises from the fact that consumers imbue brands with human personality traits (Aaker 1997).

Regarding the process of anthropomorphizing objects, you will find plenty of examples (an excellent resource: The Anthropomorphic Food and Kitchen Gallery). A brand that I like and keeps a consistent 'personality' in its products is Suck UK. You can probably find a dozen more like it.

I can only see an anthropomorphized department as a sum/average of the standardised characteristics of its members. I don't think it's too different from creating personas, actually. It would be an average of an average, sort of. I can easily imagine a commonplace persona for the development team I work with.

A game could actually give some interesting insight, something like asking people (the actual people in the company) to write some keywords of how they imagine an archetype from another department. I think a nice example of something similar is the Mac vs PC video(s).

A very practical advice: Buy those bags full of googly eyes, print some buildings and glue the eyes to them. It's amazing what a pair of eyes can do, we can't ignore something with them. It's instinctive (the bigger the eyes, the more attention we pay, because it might mean a bigger predator). 'Gamifying your persona creation' can make things much easier and fun.

  • That's a great post. Thank you. Some interesting material and directions to explore there. Commented Dec 27, 2012 at 0:15

UX touches on many fields, and in this case, it is very much in the marketing domain, even if for different reasons. I wouldn't bring the marketing department in on this, but they deal with this sort of thing all the time, and so have tools for it. So I would use a marketing analysis for this part rather than try to use personas. I would however use the results to add information to the personas that would then be used for the actual design.

A persona helps with thinking through the people that will be using your product. If they are in a particular organisation with specific traits, then those traits are part of their persona that you have to consider.


I guess what you try to achieve is orthogonal to personas.

In the old times, we had these so-called Actors (as per UML 2.0), who defined the different information needs of different kinds of people, departments, and even computer systems.

That was modelled with Use Cases and I'm pretty sure Cockburn's classic "Writing Effective Use Cases" might help you on that.

So this was the enterprise-level thinking on how these should be modelled.

On one hand, you have a need by functionality: product lines come and go, and also their needs change, so it's easy to fall into a feature-listing, always outdated starting from yesterday, instead of personality need listings. However, it's executed by the same set of people.

So, I guess you also need to define by levels of knowledge or work attitudes:

For example, a "pointy-haired" manager, doesn't matter, at which department, needs a quick overview which is easy to understand, so they feel knowledgeable, and can do the right things.

(While I'd love to see my customers and employers as ideal, everyone-does-their-job-well kind of way, I've seen manager selection based on Dilbert's principle in practice quite a few times at different huge companies)

Also, some people just want to survive the day so they can get a salary and have the most energy to deal with the rest of 16 hours per day of their lives (kids, friends or parties). For them, an ideal system is actually for which they have to "wait a lot", so they can have chat with their co-workers instead of focusing. Their biggest fear is a new, efficient system which brings workforce reductions on mid-term.

(Also in an ideal world, everyone loves their job and tries to focus at least 6 hours a day. Enterprises aren't ideal usually.)

And yes, there are some people who try to do their work effectively, and try to be able to do as much themselves as they can, in order not to be blocked by the members of the other two groups. Unfortunately, the other two groups prove their importance (and the right to be employed) by bugging and blocking them constantly, a bitterfun view from the outside.

The biggest realization of sociology in the 80s, that there are always "leachers", people who act more like - sorry for the wording - parasites or commensals of the company rather than as productive parts of it. (I don't know if this quote comes from a Wellman or a Hankiss research, but I gained it as part of scientific research as a paid researcher at university). If you'd cut out all the leachers, some people who were motivated would become leachers.

The question is more about how to make leachers still a valuable, productive part of a community, or of a system.

So I think if anything, the levels of knowledge, style of work and attitude towards work affect your personas much more than product lines. But perhaps this would be hard to share with your customer.


To be honest I think that anthropomorphising products, product lines and departments may lead to exactly the sort of problems that persona help with.

I don't want people treating products and departments as "people" - it distracts folk from treating people as people. There needs to be alignment on vision and direction - but I don't think persona are the right tool when you're not dealing with humans. It's far too easy for people to put the "product" persona above the "people" persona.

There are other useful tools for the kind of thing that I think you're talking about, for example:

  • The Business Model Canvas and Lean Canvas excellent ways to communicate product/business direction.

  • I've used Empathy Maps as a way to get focus on groups of people - that might work for the department case

  • Story Mapping is a great tool for getting product vision visible to the whole team


For something that is not a person, service design methodology might help you create or validate a persona. Service design is a combination of many disciplines including interaction design, product design, marketing research, and user research. Those practices and and more are combined to improve the quality and the interaction between service providers and customers.

Service design tools to help build a persona include a character profile, storyboard, or experience map. All tools can be adapted to a subject that is not a person. Once attribute data is collected a persona can successfully be created and validated. A comprehensive sets of service design tools with examples can be found at servicedesigntools.org

Attribute category examples include:

  • Demographic
  • Technological
  • Internet usage
  • Environment
  • Lifestyle
  • Roles
  • Goals
  • Needs
  • Desires
  • Knowledge
  • Usage trends
  • Tasks

Service design also incorporates measurement and documentation practices that could contribute to creating and validating a persona.


There are of course real people involved in the department, the products, etc. There are those that work in the organisation, those that develop the products, and those that use the products, but the personas are not about those people.

Why must you make a strict divide between the cultures, and the persona. This is who future development is ultimately for.

The intention is to drive future development and design in a consistent manner within a division and across products.

If this is strictly and fundamentally the only reason why you are constructing a persona, then I'd ask myself what motivates said persona to design, to involve itself in future development.

Why does she act (Innovation? Pragmatism?), When does she act (quickly? relaxed?), Who does she act for(Employees? Customers?)?

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