When Should You Use Personas?

Jared Spool

December 26th, 2006

Over at the IxDA Discussion list, there’s been a interesting discussion about whether or not Personas are a good idea.

I think they are extremely useful, but not for all people in all situations. In specific, I’ve found personas to be very important under the following conditions:

  1. The design team is an actual team, with more than a single individual working the entire process from ideation through implementation (and beyond).
  2. The team members are different from their users (which is most of the time).
  3. The team members do not have constant interaction directly with the users, particularly getting feedback on how the relevant artifacts are used.
  4. Different users will interact with the artifacts differently because they have different intentions, context, knowledge, skills, or experience.

The well-executed persona description helps the team work “on the same page,” when it comes to understanding who their users are. It can eliminate the confusion and wasted efforts that come when team members are walking around with different ideas of who their users are. (See Yahoo’s Approach to Keeping Personas Alive.)

The well-executed persona description enables successful role-playing and story-telling for intra-team communication and for inter-group understanding of the design goals and objective. (See Three Important Benefits of Personas.)

The well-executed persona description helps the team members fit the design solution against the attributes which make one persona different from another, to ensure they’ve not excluded activities or impaired actions because they were ignorant (or forgot) about a subtlety of use. (See 5 Things to Know About Users.)

I see a major role for personas to be dissemination of information about users to others in the organization. When well executed, the entire organization understand who the design is for and the subsequent design rationales.

3 Responses to “When Should You Use Personas?”

  1. Dave Says:

    Great list of uses for personas. Something to also remind people of is that personas are a model, not just for communicating ideas, but for discovering ideas as well. The process of creating a persona based off of real observation data is one of converting raw data into a polished model. That process does manipulate the data, but it also brings out information from the data that one would not understand without going through this process. What’s better (to your point about teams) is that when there are more people involved in the process of creating personas the more discovery there could be.

    I think one of the biggest problems (having been a trained ethnographer for years before being a designer) with doing observation work is converting data to understandable and then applyable information chunks. Personas are a great tool for doing just that.

    I would also add that “dissemination” implies a broadcast mode of operating. A good team environment, even x-disciplinary in nature, is one where information needs to not be disseminated, but to be understood well. Personas help bring x-disciplinary understanding.

    — dave

  2. noblog Says:


    UIEのブログのJard Spoolの書き込みより。Brain Sparks Blog: When Should You Use Personas?The design team is an actual team, with more than a single individual working the entire process from ideation through implementation (and beyond).The t…

  3. Personas. What? When? Why? | iaSoup Says:

    […] agree with Jared Spool, in that I find personas to be generally useful, but more so in the following […]

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