What Is A Persona? [Complete Guide for 2023] (2023)

Perhaps you’re new to the world of UX and curious about user personas; maybe you’ve got some experience under your belt, but you’re looking for a refresher; or you may have heard some talk about “buyer personas” and you’re wondering what’s up. This guide will cover what personas are, four main types of personas, and how to get the most out of your user personas.

Personas are a commonly used tool among UXers—though they certainly exist outside of the design world. Personas help to make the end user, customer, or target market a bit more real to the people and teams in charge of serving, reaching out to, and designing for these people.

By gathering information about your users and transforming it into a set of fact-based profiles, you can represent the very real needs and goals of your users in personal and engaging ways and keep your user at the heart of every design decision you make.

This guide will cover:

  1. What are personas and why do they matter?
  2. Four main types of personas
    • User personas vs. buyer personas
    • Proto-personas: Good in a pinch
    • Persona spectrums: Design for inclusion
  3. When and how to use personas
  4. Tips for how to get the most out of your personas
  5. How to create a user persona
  6. A final word

Ready to dive in? Let’s get started.

1. What are personas and why do they matter?

A persona is a profile. A character sketch. An approximation of a segment of your product users or target market. If you think of them in terms of archetypes, personas require you to look at who your users actually are (or the kinds of users you would like to focus on) and create a set of archetypes for the broad profile any one of your users might fit at any given time.

While there is some argument against the effectiveness of personas as a tool in UX design (mainly due to their common, but avoidable, pitfalls), the value of placing your users front and center is clear:

Personas generate empathy; and empathy is essential to the DNA of UX design. Personas allow you to look at a personal representation of your users and come to a better understanding of what your real users’ needs and goals look like in real moments of their lives.

No matter what kind of personas you choose to employ (more on that in a moment), if you’re making a focused and systematic effort to keep your users at the heart of every design decision you make, you’ll end up with a better product all around.

Personas are also helpful as your design team presents solutions to clients and stakeholders, telling users’ stories to keep them at the center of decision making.

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2. Four main types of personas

There are four main types of personas that we’ll cover here—two in more detail than the rest: buyer personas (aka: marketing personas), user personas (aka: design personas), proto-personas, and persona spectrums.

Let’s start with the two most commonly confused: user personas and buyer personas.

User personas vs. buyer personas

User personas (also known as design personas) and buyer personas (also known as marketing personas) are widely discussed and easily confused. So we’ll break it down with a simple definition of each type and their primary similarities and differences.

Buyer personas are based on market research and information about your existing customers for the primary purpose of differentiating marketing efforts by market segment. The research and analysis that goes into shaping the details of a buyer persona are all geared toward understanding the role your product plays in buyers’ lives. The goal is to focus your messaging so that you are representing your product in an accurate and appealing fashion for your target market. Buyer personas can also help shape the broad direction of product development if they uncover any particular problems that the product could potentially solve for buyers.

User personas are based on user research and are designed for the primary purpose of cultivating empathy to influence the design process. The research and analysis that goes into these is similar to what goes into buyer personas in that you’ll examine your real or potential user base to understand who they are, how they accomplish specific tasks with your product, any situational factors that impact their experience, and how you might improve the products as a whole to make the entire experience as smooth, efficient, and delightful as possible.

Both persona types look at real or potential people who will experience your product or its messaging to varying degrees. You can use both types to discover ways to personalize, iterate, and improve on your existing product and marketing efforts.

The primary difference is that a buyer (marketing) persona is based on people who are buying the product and focuses primarily on improving the marketing efforts that reach these people; a user (design) persona is based on the people who are or will be actually usingthe product and focuses primarily on improving the design of the product itself.

If you’re a UXer, it can’t hurt to be familiar with marketing personas, but keep them separate from user personas—which you’ll likely work with a lot more than the other types.

Proto-personas: Good in a pinch

Proto-personas are personas based on educated guesses about your user base. If your time and resources for user research are limited for whatever reason, this type of persona can be a quick and easy way to implement the tool. It could also be a good way to dip your toe into the waters of user personas.

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This type of persona tends to slip much more easily into the aforementioned pitfalls, so we don’t recommend this as an ongoing or habitual approach.

Persona spectrums: Design for inclusion

Persona spectrums are receiving growing attention in the design industry as the field moves toward inclusion. Persona spectrums take a “typical” user and create iterations of that same persona across a spectrum of ability, identity, background, or experience to factor a wider range of user needs into the design process.

For example, you could set up one of your personas as having limited use of one arm either permanently (amputation or paralysis), temporarily (arm is in a cast), or situationally (they’re holding a cup of coffee or a child, etc.).

This approach is based on the idea that any one of your users might experience exclusion from your product at any given time for any number of reasons—why not design a solution to that problem? You’ll end up with more inclusive personas and products.

Note that for the rest of this guide, we’ll focus on user personas and persona spectrums as these are most applicable in the field of UX design.

3. When and how to use personas

No matter what kind of personas you’re building, your most important job is to ensure that your personas accurately represent your users needs and goals—especially in the context of the product or features you’re looking to improve. This happens through rigorous user research, which is at the heart of the first stage of the UX design process: Empathize.

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User personas are both:

  • A means of building empathy and defining user problems, and
  • A result of the Empathize and Define stages of the UX design process

Build your personas during the Empathize stage of the UX design process. This is a great way to distill research findings and help you and your team to really solidify those insights and prepare to define the problems you’ll tackle in the remaining stages of the process. As you build them, you’ll naturally generate empathy and do some of the work of the Define stage as you begin to see patterns and notice things you may have missed in your initial research.

Having personas early in the design process will give you a solid foundation of understanding your users in more concrete terms and give you tools to generate empathy and understanding in your stakeholders. It’ll also give you a solid touchpoint to return to during subsequent stages of the design process.

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Return to your personas in the Ideate stage of the design process: ask whether the ideas you’re coming up with really meet the needs and contexts represented by your personas. It may be that you come up with some really fantastic, exciting, shiny new ideas that you need to let go of or return to at a later date, because they don’t meet the needs of the moment. But chances are even greater that the parameters that your personas create will lead to some very original and relevant ideas that you and your team can tackle together.

4. Tips for how to get the most out of your personas

There are four common pitfalls when designers or design teams use personas. It’s important to acknowledge these pitfalls, but also to emphasize that these are problems that occur when personas are implemented incorrectly—and that you can avoid them quite easily!

Here are our tips for how to avoid each pitfall and make the most of this powerful tool.

Tip #1: Get buy-in from people outside the design team (as well). If you or your team are the little persona island in the company, personas will be naturally limited in their effectiveness.

Pitch personas to leadership and help them to see how personas can create a unified vision of who you’re serving, greater empathy for those users and their needs, and ultimately, a more cohesive and user-centered product experience.

And make personas a company-wide project! Involve people from every team, and especially leadership. Make it an engaging and meaningful experience! Allow everyone’s insights to shape the direction each persona takes.

Tip #2: Cultivate a better understanding of what personas are and what they do. Personas shouldn’t be created, used once, and set on a shelf or hung on a wall as a vague ideal or goal.

Help your colleagues understand what personas are, how they might factor into each team’s process, and what the results might look like. After you’ve got a set of personas set up for a project, actively involve them in meetings and workshops and coach other teams to do the same!

Tip #3: Create or re-create unique personas for every project. Personas are not one-size fits all. You’ll create a set of personas with a specific aspect of the product in mind. This focus will determine the kind of data you use, the teams you involve, and every detail of the personas you create. If you use the same set of personas for every project from now until the end of time, your personas could miss the mark.

With each new project comes a new set of problems to solve that will require different kinds of data and focus on different user needs and goals. Re-invent your personas with each new project’s goals in mind.

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Tip #4: Broaden the scope of your personas and remember that they are merely archetypes. In reality, there is no “average” or “typical” user. Every human you’re designing for has a unique set of needs and goals, abilities, identity, and context/circumstances.

It’s impossible to focus your efforts on the needs and goals of every single person who might end up using your product, but if you’re not mindful in how you create your personas and what additional steps you take in the design process to minimize exclusion, your personas can limit your vision and ultimately the effectiveness of your product.

The best ways to steer clear of this pitfall? First, be sure to involve diverse users in your research and testing (in the creation of the data that will inform your personas), and diverse colleagues in the crafting of your personas. This will help your personas to include the needs and goals of users whose identities, experiences, abilities, and backgrounds fall outside of the assumed majority.

Another great way to keep your personas from limiting your vision is to expand the personas themselves into persona spectrums (more on these in a moment)

5. How to create a user persona

Whether you’re sticking with a traditional user persona or enriching that practice with persona spectrums, the starting point will always be user research. User research is your window into the worlds of the people who use your product; it’s where you’ll learn when and how they interact with your product, what that experience is like, and what factors you’ve overlooked that might impact that experience. This is where you discover ways to create better user experiences—which, for UXers, is kind of the point!

If you’d like to learn more about user research, CareerFoundry’s free UX Research for Beginners Course is a great place to start.

From there, you’ll work with your team to organize and interpret your findings into whatever deliverables (including personas!) you’ve decided will be most useful going forward.

Here’s our video guide on how to create a user persona:

6. A final word

Use them well, and personas have the power to transform users’ experiences with your product. Use them well, and you’ll learn more about your users and cultivate more empathy in your company than you might have thought possible.

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If you’d like to learn more about the UX designer process and user personas, check out these articles:

  • How to define a user persona
  • User persona spectrums: What they are and how to use them
  • How to build a customer journey map
  • UX design career specializations you should explore

FAQs

What are the 3 types of persona? ›

3 Persona Types: Lightweight, Qualitative, and Statistical.

Are personas outdated? ›

Personas are antiquated… this coming from someone who has relied on and written about them for years. For years at 3.7 Designs, we've created personas during the design discovery phase. I recently realized that the traditional marketing persona is no longer a relevant practice.

How many buyer personas should you aim to complete? ›

Depending on your business, you could have as few as one or two personas or as many as 10 or 20. But if you're new to personas, start small. You can always develop more personas later if needed.

What are the 4 personas? ›

Competitive, Spontaneous, Humanistic, and Methodical are the four types of online purchasing personas. Knowing how each persona thinks and acts could help you exponentially when creating your online strategy.

How many personas is too many? ›

The short answer is: It depends. There isn't really a magic number a brand or project should follow, but it is generally recognized that 3-8 personas are sufficient in most cases. Many people, including design professionals, are often confused about the differences between customer segmentations and personas.

Why are personas not good? ›

Too many user personas focus on demographic details. Here's why this is bad — it promotes a surface-level understanding of human behavior that can lead to biased stereotypes based on gender, ethnicity, age, and economic status. Stereotypes perpetuate surface-level understandings of users.

What is the best Persona to start with? ›

Persona 5 is a fantastic starting point for newcomers, and like the other mainline titles in this second phase, no knowledge of previous games is required. It does a fantastic job in bringing the series to a new generation of consoles and RPGamers.

Should you capture every Persona? ›

Collect Every Persona

Even if it means getting rid of one you're currently holding, try to capture every new Persona you can. This will help a ton with late-game fusions and for your second (or later) play through.

How many interviews does it take to make personas? ›

How long should the buyer persona build process take? You should aim for approximately 5-6 minimum interviews along with outside data collection and research from internal and external sources.

How long should buyer persona interviews take? ›

Your goal should be between 30 minutes and an hour for a phone interview, which is typical for these interviews.

What is a persona example? ›

What is an example of a user persona? An example of an average user persona can consist of a name, occupation information, demographics, a personal story, pain points, and challenges. With these elements involved, the user persona is more likely to demonstrate a real human being accurate.

Can personas be used in the real world? ›

Personas are consistently used in marketing and advertising because customers are at the core of the marketing and advertising industries. Advertisers know who their target audience is, so personas can add a face to a specific market segment.

What is persona called in Japan? ›

Shin Megami Tensei: Persona, known as Persona in Japan, is an enhanced port of the first title in the Persona series, Megami Ibunroku Persona, for the PSP. The English localization retains the plot settings of the original Japanese version as well as a more accurate translation.

What are the 5 Spotify personas? ›

The five Spotify Personas: Nick, Olivia, Shelley, Travis, and Cameron.

Does my persona have to look like me? ›

It's based on your personality, your look, your style, your worldview, and more. Call it your persona. The best personas are authentic, match your creative goals, and empower your brand elements. Your persona reflects who you are as an artist, but is not necessarily you.

Should every Persona have a name? ›

The name of your persona is just as important as the photo that you select for it because it becomes the representation of that user. If we want our organizations to think of a persona as representing our users, we need to provide them with a suitable and believable name.

Do personas have genders? ›

In several places, Persona designates gender for archetypes as Male or Female and allows users to specify whether or not a character's sex is Male, Female, or Other. This is an article written to answer questions commonly asked about the way that Persona handles these things.

Should you always fuse personas? ›

Each time a Persona levels up, their stats increase as well. As such, always use fusion to create higher level Personas. If you use the same Persona in battle every time, they will receive plenty of experience.

Can you have too many personas? ›

You might think you're doing yourself and your team a favour by defining a bunch of personas, but having too many can be harmful. Chances are, with many personas, there won't be a clear delineation between them all -- making it really hard for you to actually attract, engage, convert, and delight any of them.

What is Joker's Canon name Persona? ›

While the player can freely name Joker in the game, he is canonically named Ren Amamiya in most appearances and Akira Kurusu in the manga adaptation.

What is the darkest Persona game? ›

While Persona 5 is ultimately an optimistic game about change and standing up to corrupt authority, it still manages to be the darkest Persona game in a long time, full of realistic, personal horrors, abhorrent villains, and the Lovecraftian terror we've come to expect from the series.

Can you fuse Arsene? ›

That said, players are not required to keep Arsene as their main Persona. They can fuse it with other Personas to create new partners.

How many hours does it take to 100% Persona 5? ›

Read More. When focusing on the main objectives, Persona 5 is about 97½ Hours in length. If you're a gamer that strives to see all aspects of the game, you are likely to spend around 173 Hours to obtain 100% completion.

What level should I face kamoshida? ›

After you reach the end of the first Palace (dungeon) of Persona 5, you'll be facing Shadow Kamoshida as the final boss. The battle can be challenging if you don't prepare properly, and you'll want to at least be level 10 before you make your attempt.

What percentage of interviewees get hired? ›

Job seekers have a 36.89% chance of receiving a job offer after having one interview.

What are the disadvantages of personas? ›

They all agree that personas provide unreal and unreliable data, which can be time and resource wasting. Those who agree that extensive research is required to create efficient personas also understand how it can be exhausting since the user personas are ever-changing (as user behavior is ever-changing).

What are the 3 types of Persona? ›

3 Persona Types: Lightweight, Qualitative, and Statistical.

What are the three personas? ›

The Three Personas: How Marketing, Product, and Analytics Attempt to Define The Customer.

What are the three core components of personas? ›

There are three main components to consider when defining community personas: characteristics, influencers, and workflows. By defining these three components for your persona types you can better understand who your members are, what motivates them, and how you can best help them use the community in a successful way.

How do you explain a persona? ›

What does persona mean? A persona is the image or personality that a person presents in public or in a specific setting—as opposed to their true self. The word is especially used in the phrase public persona, referring to the personality that a person presents in public and that they are known for by most people.

What is a persona and what is its purpose? ›

Personas are fictional characters, which you create based upon your research to represent the different user types that might use your service, product, site, or brand in a similar way. Creating personas will help you understand your users' needs, experiences, behaviors and goals.

What is the true meaning of persona? ›

-ˌnī or personas. : a character assumed by an author in a written work. plural personas [New Latin, from Latin] : an individual's social facade or front that especially in the analytical psychology of Carl Gustav Jung reflects the role in life the individual is playing compare anima.

What should be in a persona template? ›

What is a user persona template? A User Persona template contains all the necessary information about your potential target audience, including personality traits, interests, skills, and goals. The User Persona template helps you identify why people might use your product and how you can improve it.

What are examples of personas? ›

In the business world, a persona is about perception. For instance, if a businessman wants others to think that he is very powerful and successful, he might drive a fancy car, buy a big house, wear expensive clothing, and talk down to people that he thinks are below him on the social ladder.

What is the concept of Persona 3? ›

Persona 3 combines elements of traditional role-playing games and simulation games. The game follows the protagonist character, balancing their daily lives of going to school and building relationships with other people with fighting evil beings known as Shadows during the mysterious Dark Hour.

What is the first step in creating personas? ›

Step 1: Do research. The first thing you should take care of when creating a Persona is gathering information about your customers. It's fine to start with hypotheses if you validate them afterward.

How many user personas do you need? ›

There isn't really a magic number a brand or project should follow, but it is generally recognized that 3-8 personas are sufficient in most cases. Many people, including design professionals, are often confused about the differences between customer segmentations and personas.

Is the Persona 3 protagonist a girl? ›

In the original release of Persona 3 as well as Persona 3 FES, the protagonist is male; for Persona 3 Portable, Atlus added the option to play as a female version of the character, to provide more options to returning players and attract a female demographic.

Why is Persona 3 dark? ›

The Dark Hour ( 影時間 , Kage-jikan)? is a phenomenon that occurs in Persona 3. The Dark Hour occurs for an hour every night as a time anomaly that takes place during 12:00 AM, and serves as the 25th hour hidden between one day and the next.

What is most important in a persona? ›

The most important goal of personas is to create understanding and empathy with the end user(s). If you want to design a successful product for people, first of all you need to understand them. Designing for everyone results in an unfocused goal that will dehumanise the profile of future users.

What is the most important personal character trait? ›

Integrity

Being honest, reliable, and trustworthy are all critical to leaders because people are more likely to follow those they feel they can fully trust.

What is one of the main benefits of personas? ›

Personas provide valuable insights that you can use to convey your message to the right audience at the right time. They also enable you to perform market research, targeted advertising, usability testing, and keyword research more efficiently.

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