I'm starting a new project working with a client who already has a decent website. It will be really important to learn about the users and understand what they want/need that isn't already provided.

I've made personas before and they've always been helpful, but never extraordinarily so. They seem to be a really powerful tool and I want to make them as useful as possible this time -- probably the difference between a helpful redesign and another 'blah' layout. What little detail or trick makes personas especially useful for you?

5 Answers 5


Make the persona's as real as possible, not stereotypes.

  • Purchase a photo from a stock photo site so the persona has a face
  • Include some extra details in the persona to give motivations, family (or not), hobbies, idiosyncrasies, etc
    E.g. instead of "Frank isn't interested in technical details" use "Frank doesn't have time to worry about the technical details because he's doing the jobs of two people since Julie left six months ago."
  • Put posters that sumarise the personas up on the wall so that everyone sees them every day - don't hide them away in documentation.
  • +1 I especially like your suggestion of putting up posters... Commented Jan 30, 2011 at 13:55

When building your personas focus first on capturing traits, attitudes, constraints, and capabilities which have a direct impact on their likely use of the website. Things like whether they are time-poor, or inquisitive, or have a low tolerance for frustration. Not things like whether what breed of canine they have (unless your site is actually to do with dogs etc, of course).

Try not to have too many combinations of traits (etc) which have overlaps. Each persona should be a bundle of traits that are mostly or entirely different from the other personas.

Once you've got that, then you can add color and flavor to them. Give them a name, age, gender, photo, pet capuchin monkey, back story, etc. These gritty details don't define the persona, they exist simply to make it easier to get a grasp on each of them.

Just be careful not to recruit test participants based on the flavor demographic attributes.

  • It's always difficult to find the balance between the small details/quirks that can define some of the important traits and the ones that just add personality and make the personas relatable. I think you find a nice balance between the two. In retrospect, I think that my inattention to that balance when working with others on personas has run a few of our 'people' off the rails before. Commented Sep 22, 2011 at 4:12

I was going to type up a bunch of my thoughts, but a quick search turned up this excellent article:


  • 1
    One more thought: use the personas through any usability testing as well. Recruit to fit the personas, and tabulate and publish using the personas. For example, rather than a bland "S3 [subject 3] says," say "Virginia #2 says."
    – Pettiross
    Commented Feb 2, 2011 at 0:25

Think about your personas' social position and relationships, ideally in the context of the product. Does your product disrupt these social networks or the way they work somehow? Could it even make certain people look bad, or start losing the social status they have in the existing system? Think about ways you can help people preserve their status whilst still adding improvements to the 'old way'.

  • I like how you mention the 'old way'. That's not something I usually consider with a design but it's the greatest consideration for the user as they go from an established schema to a 'new' system/program/etc... Commented Sep 22, 2011 at 4:03

One thing that would make all personas more powerful would be to add time to the equation.

I.e What happens to the persona as they become more and more experienced with the interface. This is obviously with regards to sites where people tend to come back not just one offs.

  • Interesting thought. My initial reaction is to do this across personas (e.g. a use in a novice persona eventually evolves/graduates to a more experienced one). Have you used this approach to inform design decisions? What did you like about it?
    – Pettiross
    Commented Feb 2, 2011 at 0:28

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