Personas: Designing for the Right Users

We are not our users. We don’t think like our users think. We don’t behave how our users behave. This simple assertion is the starting point for the UX process. The next step is to find out ‘How’ do they think or behave. We do this through user research.  In a previous post I spoke about the importance of correct methodology in user research. Carrying out user research is not enough, design teams must do so correctly to gain data that is insightful. This idea carries over to how we use and present the research.

Personas are a tool for organizing and summarizing data  gained through research. While not the only tool (user profiles, scenarios, or mental models), they’re a pretty popular one.

Personas allow us to understand the goals, capabilities and context of specific users while still designing for a broader audience. They also present them as a real person rather than anonymous data. This helps us develop a degree of empathy with users. Design teams are then better able to come up with solutions that meet the needs of specific user groups.

Personas are particularly useful on projects that have a lot of stakeholders who don’t have contact with end users. Having a document that summarizes the needs of target users helps to make sure that all members of the team are on the same page.

Yet, personas that are not created right can be both a waste of time and also harmful to the project if you base design decisions on them. The first step to getting personas right is to base them on actual research. A persona based on assumptions or anecdotal evidence completely defeats the entire purpose, which is to move away from designing for ourselves and more towards designing for our users.

The research on which you base your data must be relevant to the purpose of the persona. The whole point of user research is to understand the goals and behaviors of our users. Personas that focus on demographic differences between different types of users tell us nothing about the questions we need answers to..

Personas are a helpful method of giving a design team insight into creating a product that satisfies the needs of users. Yet, like most tools in user research, creating them isn’t enough, they need to be made right.


  • Personas are a tool for organizing and summarizing data gained through research.
  • They allow us to understand the goals, capabilities and context of specific users while still designing for a broader audience.
  • Useful on projects with many stakeholders who will not have contact with end users.
  • Personas must be based on actual research carried out with your target users.

Further Reading:

Adaptive Path: Persona Non Grata

User Interface Engineering (UIE): Crappy Personas vs. Robust Personas


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