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There are lots of articles explaining personas and user profiles separately, but not many that talk about the use of both assets together to create a more insightful and comprehensive picture of the users.

To my understanding, personas is a form of archetype that is commonly used to make the connection between the user's needs and wants (hence their goals and tasks) to information that describe their various attributes. A user profile is an overview that is typically an aggregate of all the users grouped on various demographic or behavioural characteristics.

However, if you look at personas without understanding the overall user profile, it is hard to work out what the persona really represents (in terms of the overall population of users). And if you look at profiles without having a persona to relate to, it is really difficult to get a feel for what the user is like.

Is is common practice to only use one or the other, and if so why? I find them very much linked because the value of one is enhanced by the other, so I wouldn't create (and use) one without the other, yet I seldom see them referred together so I am curious to find out if there is a practical reason.

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I guess it depends on how you go about creating Personas.

Alan Cooper is credited with coming up with the persona concept in his book 'The Inmates Are Running the Asylum'. In his later book 'About Face 3 (Chapter 5)', he describes the process of how you go about creating a Persona (you generally perform a lot of research and analysis which he describes in 7 detailed steps).

Without typing out the whole chapter:

He basically said you should end up with one primary persona per interface for a product. A primary persona will not be satisfied by a design targeted at any other persona in the set.

A secondary persona is mostly satisfied with the primary persona's interface but has specific additional needs that can be accommodated without upsetting the product' ability to serve the primary persona.

He also talks about Supplemental personas, Customer personas, Served personas and Negative personas.

He also says that if it is not possible to create rigorous personas (not enough time, resources or corporate buy in, etc.) then Provisional personas can still be useful rhetorical tools to clearly communicate assumptions about who the important users are and what they need (even if these needs are not validated). Provisional personas can be based on roles or job titles, but are not research-based analysing behavioural variables.

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