There seems to be quite a bit of controversy about personas in UX Design

What value do Personas add to your project? How do Personas help you design better products? Is it worth the effort? Can they be used to decorate your office walls? Just kidding about that last one, or am I? Stick around and find out what Personas are and how you can use them to create a better product or at the very least create interesting wall decorations. Let’s dive in.

How to Create User Personas in UX Design - A Guide for Beginners

What are Personas Anyway?

For you noobs out there – Personas in UX Design are artefacts that provide you with fictional, yet realistic descriptions of the human beings you’re designing for. Personas inform your team about things like their motivations for using a product, the pain points they experience, their attitudes and demographic information such as age, occupation and gender. Don’t let the word ‘fictional’ fool you though. Your personas must be backed up with qualitative and/or quantitative research – Personas are only as good as the research behind them.

Personas are only as good as the research behind them.

Why Create Personas?

The main reason behind creating Personas in UX Design is to help everyone involved in your project to have a better understanding of who you’re designing for. When you understand the motivations and frustrations of the human being who uses your product, you and your team can make more confident design decisions. My guess is, you probably don’t want to make design decisions based on pure speculation, right? Furthermore, Personas are an agent of empathy. Having empathy for the people you’re designing for is very important, because it enables you to view things from your user’s perspective. You know, walk a mile in their shoes. Personas helps breed this empathy and drives everyone in your product team to become more altruistic as they understand the problems more and more through the point of view of your users.

In addition, a leading resource for user experience (UX) best practices and guidelines, provides the following reasons why Personas in UX Design can be useful:

  • It can help your stakeholders and leaders evaluate new product features and ideas
  • It will help your design team develop better wireframes, interface behaviours, and labelling
  • It helps you design better user interfaces that cater to people’s needs
  • System engineers/developers decide which approaches to take based on user behaviours
  • Copywriters ensure site content is written to the appropriate audiences

When to Create Personas for Your Product

Personas are usually created just before the ideation phase and just after the research stage.

Although Personas are fictional people they should always be based on real world research. A fancy word for Personas that are made up of real research are Empirical Personas. Using completely fabricated Personas, which are labelled Non-empirical Personas, has no root in reality and that’s not particularly useful to anyone. If I may contradict what I just said a little: Sometimes designers like you don’t have a budget for research. Or maybe you don’t have enough time. I think in such cases its helpful for designers to do a bit of mental gymnastics and do their best to conjure up Personas and imagine what experiences might be like from their point of view. This can be done by ding secondary or desk research. Maybe even guerrilla research. It’s better than doing no research and having no Personas in my opinion.

So, when should Personas be created in the design process? Ideally, Personas should be created once you have as much research available as possible and just before you start ideating for a new product or product feature. Research should at the very least include stakeholder interviews and customer interviews. But don’t stop there. If you’ve had the opportunity to do ethnographic research or user testing you should include the insights garnered from this to create robust Peronas.

Why Personas Fail

The reason why Personas can sometimes be a controversial topic is because they failed to add value to a project. Kim Flaherty from the the Nielsen Norman Group who is a Persona specialist sheds some light on why Personas fail.

She says they fail because:

  1. Personas were created, but not used
  2. There was no buy-in from leadership
  3. Personas were created in a silo and imposed on people
  4. The people don’t know what personas are or why they’re useful
  5. There’s a fundamental flaw with the personas

How to Create Personas

As you may know already, the foundation of useful Personas is that it should be based on research. To make sense of the research it should be analysed – perhaps by using affinity card sorting techniques or any technique that works for your team. Since I mentioned team, you should try to involve the whole team in the Persona creation process. That means as many stakeholders as possible. Why? Because one of the biggest arguments against using Personas is that they’re not realistic. By involving the team and stakeholders they’ll come to realise how the research plays a role in developing realistic research based Personas that will help inform the design process.

Creating Pesona Artefacts

The best way to bring your Personas to life and to ensure it is referred to throughout the design process is to create an easy to digest visual artefact of your Personas. Usually this artefact takes the form of a well designed Keynote slide deck or maybe a printable poster. Whatever the artefact, make sure it’s as visually striking as possible while ensuring it communicates the most appropriate details that support design decisions. For constant reminders and easy reference of your Personas consider printing posters and putting them up on your office walls.

What to Include in Your Persona Artefacts


Including a photo of your Persona helps the team and stakeholders to remember that you’re designing for a distinct individual that represents that customer segment and not a faceless anonymous mass. Using photos of the people you interviewed is ideal – just remember that you need the appropriate permissions to use these photographs to prevent any legal issues. You can of course, buy photographs from stock photo libraries. When you do make sure that the photographs don’t look overly posed and polished. Use photos where people are in realistic environments and look as natural as possible.


Put a name to the face. Would you like to keep referring to your Persona as “late-40s overworked professional single mom with two kids”? Or would “Olivia” be easier? As simple as this exercise sounds there are a few guidelines you should remember when picking a name. Make it a short and distinctive name that’s easy to pronounce and remember. Also, don’t use names of coworkers and clients. When you use names that are the same or like those of the people involved in the project it is easy for them to try and identify themselves in the personas. Furthermore, you’ll avoid any chances of hurt feelings and uncomfortable situations when you use unique names.


Knowing your Personas’ job tile and responsibilities in that position goes a long way to help you and stakeholders identify more with the Persona. You’ll have a deeper insight as to what a typical day might look like for this person and thereby have a greater understanding of of what makes them tick. For instance someone who works in sales might be more outgoing and will probably interact with many people everyday while someone working as an engineer may interact with very few people.


Since your persona is representative of a certain segment of people that will use your product its useful to have a general understanding of their basic life circumstances.  Designing for Sandra, a 45 year old high powered corporate executive who lives in New York city, might look very different than designing for Daniel, a 32 year old 7th grade teacher living in a rural town in Oklahoma.

Demographic information you might want to include in your Persona:

  • Age
  • Marital Status
  • Parental status
  • Education
  • Income bracket
  • Industry & Job Title
  • Location


Imbuing your Persona with a short biography or a personal background story helps deepen the level of empathy for the design team and makes the Persona more accessible to stakeholders. This is another opportunity to weave a compelling story grounded on your research data. The biography should be to the point, relevant and believable. Also, keep it short. Too much information can be distracting.


Jared M. Spool,  founder of User Interface Engineering (UIE), the largest usability research organisation of its kind in the world, professes that scenarios plays a key role in creating good Personas that contributes to the success of a product. So what are scenarios? Scenarios tells a story of people’s motivations and how they might develop a need to use your product. Furthermore, scenarios elaborate on the  context in which this person might be using your product. Scenarios help surface the user needs and goals and how they can achieve them by using your product. Scenarios are critical both for designing an interface and for usability testing.

Here’s an example of a scenario:

Nic recently bought Jamy, his 11 year old son, his very own laptop computer which he needs for his school projects. As a parent Nic is very concerned about Jamy accessing the internet and the inappropriate content he might be exposed to. Nic sets out to search for internet parental control software on Google and soon shortlists the websites of 3 products that looks like they might meet his needs. Nic doesn’t have a lot of time. As he browses and compares the products he keeps looking for the following information – How easy is it to set up and maintain the software and secondly what does it cost?

Personas without scenarios are like characters with no plot. — Kim Goodwin


Using a personal quote helps to distill your Personas’ core way of thinking. It breeds further empathy with the design team and stakeholders because its quick to digest and gets down to the heart of the personas concerns and motivations.

Here’s an example of a quote continuing from our scenario above:

“Have you seen the crazy stuff on the internet theses days? My child needs protection and it’s my responsibility to protect him. I’m deeply concerned about what Jamy might get exposed to, but I’m so overwhelmed with all the different security products out there. I’m not sure which one will do the best job.”


Usually written in a bullet point format, frustrations are the specific problems your Persona is experiencing. Identifying the frustrations can be very useful to help define the features of product.

Here’s an example of frustrations:

  1. Choosing security software is overwhelming and complex
  2. I’m not sure how to compare the products to make a choice
  3. I feel anxious because I want to make sure I choose the right kind of software

When you look at the frustrations above you’ll realise these could quite easily translate into tangible design solutions. Let’s look at the first frustration. If you know that people may be experiencing overwhelm when trying to choose security software, then you know it could be your job to make sure your design makes it simple and easy for people to understand your security product. This could be done by the use of appropriate language and layout in your design that speaks to this frustration.


Defining what your Persona wants to achieve by using your product, helps to clarify the end goal. Goals could be something tangible such as submitting tax returns or finding the best jazz playlist for a dinner party. It could also be something less tangible such as wanting to be more productive.

If we continue using the example we’ve used before, your Personas’ goals might look something like this:

  • I want to protect my child from inappropriate content on the internet
  • I want to be able to monitor what my child is looking at, at all times
  • I want to control what my child can and can’t see on the internet


What drives your Persona’s decisions? Why do they want to accomplish these goals? You can define your Persona’s motivations by simply listing it in bullet points or perhaps in a visual way where you can indicate the motivational factors.

If we continue using the example we’ve used so far, your Personas’ motivations might look something like this:

  • I want to protect my child from harm (Concern)
  • I love my children and don’t want them to see harmful content (Love)


Knowing someone’s personality type can help you figure out how you might approach a particular design problem. For instance, if the person you’re designing for is cautious, sceptical and analytical – then you might want to make sure you provide this person with all the appropriate detailed information they need to achieve their goal. In my persona templates I’ve used the Myers Briggs personality framework. According to Myers Briggs, there are 16 potential user personality types. If you’re not quite sure what the sliders mean in my persona templates, check out the Myers Briggs basics article to help identify and provide more information on each bar.


It’s helpful to know what kind of technology your Persona might be using. For instance, your granny may be using an older smartphone model that does not have biometric functionality. Furthermore, consider that USSD technology is the primary way some countries in Africa send money to one another.


Including the brands you Persona associates with the most helps the team understand the person much more. Along with technology and apps, brands give you a more complete picture of the person’s social status, mindset and lifestyle. These brands can also represent competitors.

Software & Apps

The desktop software and mobile apps your Persona uses on a regular basis can provide some insights as to what kind of technology they’re comfortable with as well as how they might spend their time and what their interests are. For instance, compare someone who mostly uses Facebook, Netflix and Instagram vs someone who uses Strava, Spotify and the FitBit app. Do you think you can make some lifestyle assumptions about your Personas by just looking at the apps they use most frequently?

Conclusion on Personas in UX Design

When your Personas are based on actual research they serve as building blocks for having a shared understanding of your user and for breeding empathy with your product team. Well constructed and thought through Personas are the starting point for your design team to design products that people need and want.