Question in short

When writing personas, do I: 1. Describe them in their current situation using whatever tool they may be using, or with no tool 2. Describe them using the tool that I am developing, ie a future tool, not one they are actually using yet

My basic understanding of persona

Correct me if I am wrong. Personas are a tool to be used before the design process, though I guess they can be revised at any point later in the process. When having the personas in place one can start designing for them, or at least by referencing to them in some way.

My example case

While my question is a general one, I will provide my example so that it is hopefully easier for you to understand my question. I want to design a product, an interface, for managing the heating system in a house. It will be a panel hanging on the wall, with various features like 1) raising the temperature for a few hours and then return to default, 2) set automatic down adjustment of temperature during the night, 3) display energy usage and expenses for a chosen period of time.

I have written my personas as narratives based on what I envision. That is:

  1. Anne comes home from work bicycling and feels very cold. She's had a long day, and now she wants to lie on the sofa for an hour until the rest of the family comes home. But the livingroom is cold, so on her way to the sofa she presses the '1hr boost' button, before she lies down.
  2. Paul thinks his wife uses the boost button too often, and he thinks his daughters forget to turn off the heating before opening the windows. Now and then, when he is confronted with what he considers money wasting behavior, he goes to the panel and checks the energy usage. He browses back and forward through the days and gets an overview. He sees that in the weekend they used extraordinarily much energy, while the teenagers were away.

Now, I like these personas. They make sense for me, they are believable and I can imagine these scenarios very well. They help me understand the user, and imagine the product I want to build. BUT, they are written while I already have an imagined end product, and the persona narratives describe how the users interact with my imagined product.

Writing personas based on their lives without my end product is not very helpful

So let's say that I actually want to do the personas about their lives without the panel. The problem is, that there will not be any options for 'boost' nor for reading energy consumption. In fact, most people no matter their technical skills, will adjust radiators the exact same way. I know some countries have these central panels for electric radiators, but in my country everybody has hot water radiators which can only be regulated by a temperature adjusting valve on each radiator.

Summary of question

Is it ok, or is it unadvisable, to use personas the way I do, instead of using them to describe the personas before introducing the new product.

Are there any best practices regarding such a dilemma, any helpful experiences, or any literature (blogs, papers, tutorials) on this?

4 Answers 4


The question you are asking doesn't pertain to personas, it pertains to user flows.

What the user currently does with existing tools is one set of user flows. What the user would do if using your product as intended is another set of user flows.

The persona should be the same for both.

Otherwise, as @tonytrucco mentions, you are not inventing a product that fits the persona, you are inventing a persona that prefers your user flow to the existing user flow.

  • Great answer, if its really that simple :) Do you have any references? Maybe a paper? Maybe a tutorial? That defines this and the difference between personas and user flows, perhaps discusses / elaborates it? Aug 14, 2015 at 15:09
  • Here is a video that talks about the relationship between the two, with examples linked below to show the difference, under "Instructor Notes" udacity.com/course/viewer#!/c-ud509/l-4290398958/e-4293278963/… It's also worth noting that User Flows are typically very specific, e.g., "user clicks x, then sees y, then clicks z." Broader narratives like what you have written for Anne and Paul are closer to what is usually called a User Journey. It's a semantic distinction, but not a meaningless one. Aug 14, 2015 at 15:26
  • By user flows, do you mean the same as user journeys? en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User_journey. Aug 27, 2015 at 4:12
  • I used the wrong terminology. I was referencing the difference between User Journeys and User Task Flows: ux.stackexchange.com/questions/38778/… Aug 27, 2015 at 15:25

Use both, but in order

  • Personas are intended to provide a model for user behavior. This may include needs, emotions, perceptions, incentives, and goals.

  • Personas are intended to help designers understand the problem domain before they start designing a solution. Understanding the problem domain before trying to design a solution is considered a basic tenant of design practice.

  • Personas evolve together with the design. So a persona may be used to understand user needs, but as the designer creates and explores solutions, she may develop the persona to explore how users would interact with one or more solutions.

  • If you create a persona with a particular solution in mind, you may be short-circuiting the design process, because this closes your thinking to other possible solutions.

    • The danger here is: instead of creative thinking, all you are doing is rationalizing the design you have in mind. This is not always the case, but it's a common hazard for designers who are in a hurry and rush the problem domain analysis (for which personas is a tool).
    • To illustrate using an old saying: if you start out with a hammer, everything starts to look like a nail. This is what can happen when the design process/persona modeling starts with a solution in mind:

    in a world of hammers everyting looks like a nail

In summary, you can and certainly should use a persona with a particular solution....but try to do this only when you're satisfied that you have properly modeled the user's needs and behaviors irrespective of the solution. Otherwise, you are starting with the proverbial hammer....


It seems more like a narrative for a user-test, rather than the narrative for a persona, which are more a general "bio" regarding the user.

To me a persona consists of:

  • Name, Picture & Demography
  • Bio
  • Goals
  • Frustrations

If you decide to go with proto-personas, don't forget to actually test them with your real audience by qualitative and quantitive data. I'd suggest you simply go in the field and interview some people, preferably extremes, people who turn it up the maximum and people who are very ecological minded, or better yet, people how don't use it all. (although this is a very narrow view at it, perhaps you make it a little broader so that you perhaps see something more beyond the scope).

prevent feature for the sake of feature

I'd suggest watching some of Alan Cooper's interviews or read his book: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G7ljzXB40hw http://www.amazon.com/The-Inmates-Are-Running-Asylum/dp/0672326140

  • What do you refer to with "prevent features for the sake of features". Features of the persona? Features of the product? Aug 14, 2015 at 8:27
  • My bad, I meant features for the end product. Because I see that some designers want to employ UCD techniques but than try and justify a feature by using these techniques. What I mean is, that although nowadays people use a thermostatic knob on each radiator but I consider it more a "feature" as Nest, to me, already has proven that there are other ways that are closer to the actual goal of the user: "I want the temperature to not affect my daily activities"
    – Xabre
    Aug 14, 2015 at 8:32
  • Actually my project is about ground based heat pumps, that do need a better interface, I just dumbed down the example :) Anyway, its a school project, so I can't just conclude that the interface is not necessary, hehe, that would be a boring project ;) Aug 14, 2015 at 12:26
  • Perhaps that would be the beauty of it all, showing that it isn't needed, after which you give an awesome improvement? Anyway, did it clarify things on the personas? Otherwise I have the following links that might help you out more :-) - openpersonas.com - slideshare.net/UPABoston/persona-development and also ux.stackexchange.com/questions/21891/…
    – Xabre
    Aug 14, 2015 at 12:42
  • Also, if the answer did meet your expectation, would you be so kind to accept the answer so other people at least know that it could help them?
    – Xabre
    Aug 14, 2015 at 12:46

So personas are supposed to exist and act as a sort of guidepost for you as you design your product or solution. Typically they're based on real data/feedback but can also be generalized to fit a larger audience. Personas should never co-exist with the final product. That's where you're supposed to perform user testing and verify the validity of your solution.

A common pitfall of many start-ups is that they invent a product and then try to invent their audience. I know this is a school project, but you have taken a similar approach by envisioning your end-goal and then creating Personas that are tailor-made to utilize it. It's a great way to make your product seem valuable, but it's not an effective approach to problem solving.

If your project is about heat pumps then you should already have some information that would be useful for creating fresh Personas. Come up with a couple typical users of the heat pumps and describe their lives. Even if they interact with the pumps in the same way, they likely have different needs. You already started this work when you were envisioning your goal (you clearly had problems you were attempting to solve). Now go back and create the proper Personas; these will help you focus your solution and help to keep you honest about the viability of your solution.

  • I really like your points, and would love to read more, so please share if you have recommended sources :) There is a lot I want to say. I don't taylor my persona to fit perfectly to the product, I taylor three personas, and I use them to describe how each have different needs from my product. I will have to prioritize between features, and I use personas to understand and to argue why. Though I have taylored them, as described above, they are based on interviews, so I don't think I've invented them anymore than what most personas tutorials suggest. Aug 15, 2015 at 6:19

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