User personas

Yaroslav Zhmikhov
Yaroslav Zhmikhov
February 7, 2022 4 min read 2552 views
February 7, 2022 4 min read 2552 views


User personas

The representational part of the target audience of the product. Has common behaviors, goals, and motivations and is based on real user research. This method is part of the User-centered design (UCD) framework.


The image of our target audience of the product. This image is united by common behavioral factors, goals, and motives. The user persona is based on real user research.

In the last article, I recalled that once I managed to ask one question to Mr. Alan Cooper, who explained his point of view in detail, for which I am infinitely grateful to him. In this article, I again want to remember this brilliant man.

Mr. Alan Cooper suggested that increasing empathy for your user in interaction design would have a positive effect on the outcome. For example, Mac mini/Macbook Air is suitable for users with light tasks, iMac/Macbook Pro for creators, Mac Studio/Mac Pro for very powerful tasks, etc.

If we focus on all users in the world, then the result of such work will be a product that no one will need.

Such a product will cover everyone, but at the same time, it will not qualitatively fulfill any of the tasks assigned to it.

There are 3 types of personas:

  • Marketing persona. Not suitable for UX design, as they describe not the behavior, goals, and motives, but the demographics of the buyer (customer) of the product.
  • Proto-persona (Non-empirical persona). This is the type of persona with whom we begin our study. In short, this is an image of the future user, based only on the assumptions of the team and not confirmed by the results of the study.

Important: This type of persona is used solely to imagine the target audience of the product. As a result of our presentation, a proto-persona will be developed. With the help of a proto-persona, we can conduct an online survey, find and conduct interviews with potential users, and, based on the qualitative data obtained, develop an empirical persona, which we will use in the future.

  • Persona (Empirical persona). This is exactly the type of persona that we need. That is, this is the image of the target audience, which has common behavior, goals, and motives, and is the result of the research.

A user persona is a concentrated image of your target audience that has similar behaviors, goals, motivations, needs, and concerns.

Also, you need to understand the difference between a role and a user persona:

  • Role. Based on access and required functionality. In other words, this is a group of users in the system, which is united by a certain set of access rights.
  • Persona. It is built based on motives, goals, and problems.

For example, let’s look at the Preply service (a handy service for learning languages).

This picture was taken from

This picture was taken from

In my opinion, Preply contains the following roles: Super Admin, Admin, Help Desk, Teacher, and Student.

Let’s take the role of a student as a base. Hypothetically, as a result of a user interview, they could identify the following 4 personas:

  • A student who does not speak English but wants to learn it from the very beginning to a good conversational level.
  • A student who has already studied English has basic knowledge and wants to develop further.
  • A student who has a very good command of the language at the B2 level and wants to develop a business language for professional purposes.
  • A student who speaks C1/C2 but wants to get rid of the accent.

Each of these personas is united by similar behaviors, goals, motivations, needs, and concerns.

A list of some definitions that you should understand as they are often used:

  • Persona and archetype. They are functionally identical because they contain the same data and information about user behavior, relationships, goals, and pain points. The difference between the two is that a user persona has a photo, a name, and a biography, while a user archetype is not tied to specific names or faces.

Archetype example for users who want to learn a language

Archetype example for users who want to learn a language

  • A client is someone who pays a specialist, company, or organization for services or advice (consultations). A feature of the client is long-standing closer professional relationships and personalization, which means that you can work with clients for years, and have a special relationship and an individual approach to solving their problems.

Personalization or customization is the process by which a user customizes the web interface, operating system, or real-life things (such as the desktop) according to their personal preferences.

  • A customer is a person who visits a physical store or an online store with the intent to buy something. Often this is a one-time sale of something without building a long-term relationship. This is just a business, namely the exchange of money for goods, and services.
  • A consumer is someone who has bought or will directly use your product or service. The consumer himself doesn’t need to buy a product or service, it could be done for him, and he will only use it. For example, a company buys a certain InVision service plan for $4 per month for a design team. In this case, the company will be in the role of the customer, and the design team in the role of the consumer.

For example, the state claims that it failed to warn consumers about the danger of a severe thunderstorm in Lviv.

Client, customer, and consumer terms are described in the Cambridge Dictionary.

  • A user is a person who interacts with a system, product, or service.

The term is described in ISO 9241–11.

Or you can also say that this is a person using something: someplace, equipment, product or machine, etc.

For example, beach users complain that the beach is very dirty.

Important: A user in a marketing plan is someone who came to your site, interacted with it, closed it, but did not order anything, and did not call. That is, it did not bring any value to the company in the form of profit.

An example of user persona for an online e-learning platform

An example of user persona for an online e-learning platform

The purpose of the user persona

This method will help you understand the goals, desires, needs, and fears, hear the story and see the relevant user experience.

Value for the team

In this way, the team will increase empathy for their target audience and design the best solution.

Value for business

In addition to all of the above, understanding users will greatly reduce the risk of developing the wrong product or service.

Important: The wrong choice of the target audience will give the team the wrong results, which can lead the process in the wrong direction.


  • Preparation: up to 30 minutes
  • Main activity: from 2 to 5 hours per 1 empirical persona

Creating process:

We have developed a proto-persona to understand who our potential users are at the subjective level of the team and stakeholders, find them, and conduct a user interview. After the user interview, we have a large amount of qualitative data that we can turn into an empirical persona based on real data.

Step 1. Demographics

Enter only essential information such as name, age, country, city, education, industry, and position at work. And all this. Don’t invent anything else, don’t beautify the persona, and don’t turn it into a marketing persona with more product customer demographics.

User ≠ customer. An artifact that will be aimed at increasing sales and a profit strategy is not what we are looking for. Our goal is to improve the user experience.

Step 2. Story

This block is also called background or biography.

If you’ve already done an Empathy Map then you can transfer the existing information into the user persona, but I recommend re-thinking with the team on all the blocks, you might be able to add something new to the persona.

“A day in the life” story is fine, but that kind of story doesn’t say much about user interaction. In turn, the mental model is based on data that we obtained during a qualitative study called a user interview.

A mental model is a personal subjective previous experience that reflects only a personal attitude to objects and processes, and may not correspond to reality. Also, the mental model of 1 person may be different from other people.

Later, you can turn the mental model into a storyframe for the expectations section.

Why is it important to identify the mental models of your respondents? In the end, we will have two options for the development of events:

  • Have fun with the team in the game “Battle of Psychics”, where you will think on your own over the question “What would John do?”;
  • Or ask respondents a few questions about how they imagine interacting with a future product or service.

Step 3. User goals

First of all, add the goals of the respondents you interviewed. Mr. Alan Cooper divided them into 3 types:

  • The motive is “experience goals”. In forensics, this term is also used, and it allows you to determine why a person commits a crime. Preferably there is one motive, but very global. For example, the desire for professional self-development.

Motive is the strongest internal driving force that motivates a person to action. So it’s a huge motivator.

  • Goals are “life goals”. Goals flow from motive. Ask the question “Why would a user use your product or service?”. Carefully analyze the answers of the respondent, and I am sure that you will find at least 3–5 goals.

This means that if the user’s motive is the desire for professional self-development, then the goals will be: have a high salary, buy a house for your family, eat the best products, use branded appliances, and relax with your family abroad 2 times a year, etc.

  • Tasks are “end goals”. Objectives flow from goals. In short, these are specific tasks that the user needs to do to complete the goals. That is 1 goal = several tasks. To find a task, ask yourself the question “How can the user achieve his goals?”.

This means that if the user’s goal is to have a high salary, the tasks will be to find a list of all the necessary methodologies on the Internet, check their quality and effectiveness, sort them by priority and study them.

Step 4. Understand the needs, wants, and fears

  • Needs. These are the business aspects that help the user achieve the goals. I carry them over from the Empathy Map after we discovered the insights and turned them into needs.

For example, an affordable tuition fee, live communication with mentors, constant feedback from mentors, and a certificate.

  • Wants (external environment). Sometimes this block is called motivations or drivers. That is, this is everything that will make achieving user goals more enjoyable or push them to take the first or next steps.

For example, our user wants to get everything they need from one reliable resource and in a logical sequence.

  • Fears. Sometimes this block is referred to as risks or frustrations. In short, this is a strong fear or the worst thing that can happen to a user.

For example, a user is afraid because he found a large number of articles on the Internet, and they are all different. Our user does not understand what needs to be taught to him first, and what not to learn at all. He also fears for the quality of the information and in what logical order to teach it. A serious problem is the fact that he is not sure that he will be able to learn so many methodologies.

Step 5. Expectations

We have already mentioned this block before. In short, you need to turn the mental model into a storyframe.

  • Think and choose one main goal.
  • The goal you choose should contain several objectives.
  • We describe everything step by step.

In other words, a story is like a use case, but with more detail, rather than just a long list of steps the user can take until they reach their goal.

You can use one of the following tools to develop personas: Google Docs, Xtensio, Userforge, UXPressia, or Miro.

Example: User persona

OTAKOYI UX design program:

Stage 1. Business research:

  • Step 1. Preparatory & Secondary research (Desk research)
  • Step 2. Kick-off meeting & Stakeholder interviews
  • Step 3. Business model canvas (BMC)
  • Step 4. Competitive analysis
  • Step 5. SWOT analysis
  • Step 6. Business process model and notation 2.0+ (BPMN)

Stage 2. User research:

  • Step 7. User interviews (based on proto-persona) & Hypothesis
  • Step 8. Focus groups
  • Step 9. Surveys
  • Step 10. Empathy mapping (uncovering insights & identifying needs)
  • Step 11. User personas
  • Step 12. Point of view (POV) — Problem statement & How might we (HMW) questions

Stage 3. Strategy phase:

  • Step 13. Business & User Goals
  • Step 14. Value proposition canvas (VPC) — additional POVs and value descriptions
  • Step 15. Customer journey map (CJM)
  • Step 16. Service blueprint

Stage 4. Ideation phase:

  • Step 17. Ideation (Six thinking hats, Brainstorming & The Walt Disney creativity strategy)

Stage 5. Design:

  • Step 18. Prioritization
  • Step 19. User flows & Task flow
  • Step 20. Information architecture
  • Step 21. Wireframing

Stage 6. Test:

  • Step 22. UX testing methods

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  • April 28, 2022 8 min read
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    Point of view (POV) - Problem statement & How might we (HMW) questions

    This is one of the main stages of Design thinking, which will indicate the problems that your users want you to solve with your design. To write the problem statement, use the Point of View (POV) structure, which will help you write all your design problems correctly, which will subsequently be preformulated into How might we (HMW) questions so that you can start brainstorming solutions at the Ideation stage for using certain methodologies.

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