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I am new to UX and just started using personas for validating the UX of an existing project, then I was pointed out the fact that since my 'personas' were created from observing existing users instead of interviewing users, they are 'archetypes'. Read: Archetypes not Personas

When your UX team creates personas — they are creating fictional characters that represent your user base. Personas include details such as age, sex, occupation, education, interests and more. These personas are often created in a vacuum — with little insight into their behavior....A person's characteristics and behavior do not always align.

Archetypes are modeled around a behavioral perspective.... Using archetypes gives us a better view of behavior in interaction design.

Now, term and creation method aside, how are they different? Do they serve different purposes?

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I don't really agree with some of the content in the link you have provided.

Personas (are not superman)

Personas are not fictional per-se. A good persona will be heavily based on empirical research though their bio and photo may be fictional. This is to conceal the identity of the research participants. Regardless, the fictional part is intended to make the character believable - not as a key design guide. Having said that, the so called 'fictional' details are very often a mere twist on real biographic data.

To quote Alan Cooper (from About Face 3, chapter 5 - Modelling Users: Personas and Goals):

Personas are not real people, but they are based on the behaviours and motivations of real people we have observed and represent them throughout the design process. They are composite archetypes based on behavioural data gathered from the many actual users encountered in ethnographic interviews.

In addition (and with reference to Copper's definition), I'm not sure why the author of the article assumes personas are characteristics-centred, whereas archetypes are behaviour-centred. A persona will be of little to no use if you take out behavioural elements from it.

Archetypes

My Mac dictionary defines archetype as:

A very typical example of a certain person or thing.

For instance, you can say "The guy we interviewed yesterday is an archetype of an elderly user".

An archetype is someone who exists that fits a set of known characteristics. For a persona, these characteristics are initially unknown and thus derived from research.

Observing vs Interviewing

You can identify behaviour patterns using either. Observations are what centred but they often fail to provide the why. Interviews, on the contrary, are better in revealing the why but may be problematic in revealing the what or how (see Nielsens's famous First Rule of Usability? Don't Listen to Users).

With this in mind, there is some sense saying that observations are more likely to help identifying that person X is a typical example of Y (we typically identify archetypes through observations), while an interview may yield data more appropriate for personas. But this is not set in stone and depends on what exactly is being investigated.

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    +1 Very clear distinction provided in your explanation. – Pdxd Mar 27 '14 at 14:56
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I do not agree with the linked article. If that designer (Paul Farino) finds archetypes more useful for his work, that is his choice. This is how I like to work:

I create a set of user personas - usually less than 5, and label them #1-#5 in terms of their importance to the success of your product. The persona looks like a profile of a real person. I even go and find a photo of a person who embodies the persona. I put all of a persona's information on a single data sheet and have fun laying out their stats graphically.

These are based on the products target customers, and tested against reality. Meaning, they start as assumptions, and then are adjusted a couple times a year as we interview and experience our customers' behaviors and feedback.

How I use archetypes is in finding the brand archetype that best serves the whole group of personas. A great book on brand archetypes is Archetypes in Branding. When you have all your personas in front of you - their needs, behaviors, and abilities, the archetype that best serves them becomes easier to determine. I see an archetype as a recognizable role that your product can play in your user's life. For example, sometimes we need a HERO, like 5-Hour Energy, to save us. Sometimes we need a DETECTIVE, like Google, to find what we're looking for.

So I like to use the classical understanding of user personas to move toward knowing our brand archetype.

4

Persona

Is the common representation of a group, it's basic objectives and motivations, it's usual goals, their typical behaviour.

archetype

Is a specific individual, who has traits from one or more archetypes, but also has specific motivations, constrains, goals, interests and behaviours.

Archetype is a more recent word in this area of work, I'm not sure who started using it, but considering that personas where used many times as archetypes, it's normal that at some point the distinction had to arise.

4

I think the distinction is important otherwise we're not leveraging the full potential of each method and how it fits into the overall research and design process. I agree with nearly all the great definitions that have been written, but I would add where and how they fit in with the business or product strategy.

It's also worth introducing Customer Segmentation. I normally start with customer segmentation to create a segmentation model, then move on to finding archetypal themes taken from customer interviews focussing on the why then create personas to be more specific and inspirational so teams can build more delightful solutions.

I don't think it matters what template people use but I do believe they need to be measurable and continue to evolve. Archetypes for me are tied to strategic OKRs and personas are tied to tactical OKRs. Each one providing a set of KPIs that can be measured, the data helping improve the understanding of the archetypal user behaviour and the specific motivations contained within the personas.

CUSTOMER SEGMENTATION

Some market research teams will often produce a segmentation model to assist in creating targeted messaging and campaigns to customers. The segmentation can be defined a number of ways:

  • Demographic properties like age, income, and geographic location.
  • Behavioural indicating the amount of engagement, from low to high.
  • Attitudinal for things like category interest, (such as the Airbnb example; experiences or stays). Often, these segments will get names inside the organisation, similar to generational names like Millenials, Generation X, and Perennials.

ARCHETYPES

I also follow Carl Gustav Jung's definition which has since been expanded by various different experts to apply it within the software/product world.

Archetypes can be produced from a user research study, with as few as 8 to as many as 24 customers. As the researcher interviews participants and explores why they do what they do, themes begin to emerge. Eventually, these patterns can be consolidated into archetypes. One person may be looking for bargains because they need to keep as much income as they can for essentials. Another person looks for bargains because it’s fun and feels good to find a deal. Same behaviour, different motivations, two customer archetypes.

PERSONAS

After your organisation has validated and thoroughly understands the market opportunity (Segmentation), synthesised the thematic motivations of the customers (Archetypes), you’ve got everything you need to explore the problem space for your customer. As you begin ideation and design, a persona helps this archetype come to life. A persona includes a photo, name, job title, description of their living situation, and a few examples of behaviour that is driven by their motivations from the archetype. (Definition taken from here)

I think there are two main uses of personas depending on your goal for using them (example given here):

  • User Persona: I see these are the product end-users
  • Customer Persona (also known as a 'buyer persona'): this normally isn't the person using your product but might be an influencer who buys your product or service

I always like this example: who’s the customer for a children’s book? Is it the child reading the book or the parent?

I also think you can categorise personas into three different types (taken from here):

  • Lightweight Personas: Example is a Proto persona, designed to quickly align the team’s existing assumptions about who their users are, but not based on (new) research

  • Qualitative Personas: Based on small-sample qualitative research, such as interviews, usability tests, or field studies.

  • Statistical Personas: where initial qualitative research informs a survey instrument that is used to gather a large sample size and the personas emerge from statistical analysis.

There are also four different perspectives on personas, which are also helpful to understand (taken from here)

  • Goal-Directed Persona: The objective of a goal-directed persona is to examine the process and workflow that your user would prefer to utilise in order to achieve their objectives in interacting with your product or service

  • Role-Based Persona: The role-based perspective is also goal-directed and it also focusses on behaviour. The personas of the role-based perspectives are massively data-driven and incorporate data from both qualitative and quantitative sources. The role-based perspective focusses on the user’s role in the organisation.

THE SCIENCE OF PERSONAS

Initially, there has been some scepticism about whether personas work, simply because there's no way of truly validating whether the defined persona represent the user base. The most comprehensive work to date on personas (Pruitt and Adlin, 2006) is a compiled book advocating the method. You can read more about this here.

The only research I've managed to find that tries to validate personas as a method is this one found here, which validates teams that don't use them versus teams that do. Quite reassuringly the research shows the teams that do use them, actually design more intuitive and delightful products.

Read more about the research here

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I don't agree with these categories.

Maybe the archetypes could be replaced by Personas vs Protopersonas, or stereotypes.

Archetypes based on Carl Gustav Jung's theory are collective unconscious fragments of personality that have origin and relationship with the biological evolution of the human species. An archetype is usually not easily localized in a particular person, but it's more seem in collective manifestations of masses in terms of behaviors, example religion, war, political movements.

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    +1 for knowing that Jung actually defined archetypes – PhillipW Dec 30 '20 at 11:57
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I agree with the existing answers & would like to back them with few relatable examples :

Archetype :

Hero - Few common characteristics of heros are courage, selflessness, humility.

Villain - Few common characteristics of villains are Intelligence , Powerful, Immoral

Personas :

They share common characteristics but also have their own personal traits. Think of :

Heros: Batman & Harry Potter

Villains: Joker & Voldemort

Think & compare their similarities & differences to understand importance of each persona within an archetype.

Archetype is a broad set of users based on common characteristics.

Persona is a specific instance of an archetype that serve as the surrogate for many of actual users.

  • +1 I like this way of defining the relationship between the two terms, even though the use of those words might be contradictory to how they are being used in the profession! – Michael Lai Jan 7 at 5:24
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Regardless of the terminology used, I think there are four different things that are being discussed and grouped by the use of the term 'persona' and 'archetype':

  • Generic vs. specific details
  • Physical vs. behavioural characteristics/traits

The difficult thing to visualize is that the level of detail is either generic or specific (i.e. it can't be both at the same time), while some of the physical characteristics or traits can also influence one's behaviour (and vice versa).

So instead of thinking about the terminology, instead consider the specificity of the details that you want to capture, and also the type of characteristics/traits about the people that you want to document. Define the terminology that you are using for a particular combination of those information and then there won't be any confusions.

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