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A persona is a description of a fictitious typical person who might use the product being designed. Personas are useful for bringing the target customer to life, for maintaining a consistent picture of the customer and for describing the target customer to those who did not participate in customer interviews. A product development team may write several personas if there are several types of customers in the target market or if there are several segments to the market or if more than one type of person influences the purchase or use of a product, for example a medical device used by a patient and prescribed and installed by a clinician. Personas are not written out of the blue but rather are a synthesis of characteristics gleaned from interviewing customers in the target market segment. A typical product development team might create three to six personas. Personas were first described by Alan Cooper and are becoming a popular tool used by leading-edge product development companies.

For NPDBD, the persona(s) you create are based on what you learned in your customer needs interviews. That is, they are an amalgamation of the people you talked to when you were doing research on product needs. It is important that the persona be derived from facts you derived from interviews and not be what you dreamed up as your ideal customer.

Creating a Persona

The persona is a one page description of a typical user. The characteristics of the person are a composite abstracted from multiple customer interviews. The person is given a realistic name (first name only), a head shot (from a stock photo bank) and a description. The description has demographic information, a description of their daily routine as it involves the product, a relevant goal that may be related to a need the product is filling and anything else about them that may be useful for understanding the customer in depth. Write the persona as if you know them as a friend on a first name basis. ("Sally is a ..... She..... Sally.....). In essence, you are writing a docu-drama. While the character is fictional, do not make anything up. Everything about the character, including any juicy quotes, should be verbatim what you heard in a customer interview.

Step one is to define the target market segment. Step two is to interview a sufficient number of customers to get a good idea of who they are and what they want or don't want. In the interview, identify the person's goals, roles and daily tasks. Step three is to write the persona.

Here is a suggested format for writing the persona.

Name the person. Choose a realistic name, but not the name of any of your interviewees.

Demographics. List key information in a compact table.Age, occupation, location, income, education, marital status, hobbies, and anything else relevant to the product. You should list things like marital status and hobbies even if they appear on the surface not to be relevant. For example, a doctor with a hobby of playing video games may be more ammenable to a PDA front end on a high tech medical devices. However, only list if you have information, explicit or implicit from your interviews.

Introduce the person. Summarize the person's job, activity, hobby. Write in third person as if the person were responding to the question, "What do you do?"

Describe the person's roles and tasks. One paragraph about what the person does (job, hobby or activity) that may relate to the product and the tasks that make up the activity. This paragraph sets the context for the product.

List the person's goals. A list and description of two or three goals related to the user and the task. What is this person trying to accomplish? What would they like to do better?

Photo. A stock photo, either head-shot or full length. Age and gender match. Expression should match the person you are describing. Can be in context, but should show the face. Never use the photo of anyone you know or interviewed.

Quote. Include a characteristic quote that summarizes what the person does, what they need or how they feel about their job, hobby, kids (whatever is relevant). The quote should not be made up, but rather derived from quotes heard during the customer interviews.

Format. Limit to one page and use an easy to read layout that follows good graphic design principles.


At least one persona. Most projects have a broad enough primary and secondary market or have several influencers in the purchasing or distribution chain to call for multiple personas. One copy for the course and email one copy to the company client.

For the persona copy delivered to the course, attach a one-page description of the VOC research behind the persona. State the number and type of customers interviewed, and briefly describe how what you heard from customers went into your persona(s). The goal of this document is to demonstrate that your persona is derived from real people and is not just stuff you made up.


For examples consult the references listed in next section.


Personas as a design tool came out of the interaction design (think design of web sites and GUIs) community which is why most references are in the context of GUIs. The principles, however, are applicable to all product and service design.

Holtzblatt, K., Wendell, J., Wood, S. Rapid Contextual Design, Morgan Kaufmann, San Francisco, CA, 2005.

Saffer, D. Designing for Interaction, New Riders, Berkeley, CA, 2007.

Perfecting your Personas. Online newsletter from Cooper Interaction Design.

The Origins of Personas. Another article from the Cooper newsletter.

A grab-bag of online sources in no particular order: Link 1 Link 2 Link 3

Microsoft Office Clip Art. A good source of stock photos. Select Photos, then type things like "women" in the search box.

Yahoo Personals. Another source of photos. Hint: No one you know and choose a zip code far away.