AskDefine | Define personae

Dictionary Definition



1 an actor's portrayal of someone in a play; "she played the part of Desdemona" [syn: character, role, theatrical role, part]
2 (Jungian psychology) a personal facade that one presents to the world; "a public image is as fragile as Humpty Dumpty" [syn: image] [also: personae (pl)]personae See persona

User Contributed Dictionary



  1. Plural of persona

Extensive Definition

Personas are fictitious characters that are created to represent the different user types within a targeted demographic that might use a site or product. Personas are most often used as part of a user-centered design process for designing software or online applications, in which the goals, desires, and limitations of the user are considered when designing the product. They are also considered a part of interaction design (IxD). Personas are useful in helping to guide decisions about a product, such as features, interactions, and visual design.
A user persona is a representation of the goals and behavior of real user group. In most cases, personas are synthesized from data collected from interviews with users. They are captured in 1-2 page descriptions that include behavior patterns, goals, skills, attitudes, and environment, with a few fictional personal details to bring the persona to life. For each product, more than one persona is usually created, but one persona should always be the primary focus for the design.
The concept and methodology of personas was separately developed by Angus Jenkinson and Alan Cooper from around 1995 from different trajectories before being picked up by the web community as a perfect tool.
Jenkinson, who had previously initiated the “touchpoints” or “moment of truth” concept in CRM design in 1988 and subsequently “event triggers” as tools for designing automated rule-based CRM response mechanisms, worked with the Ogilvy group between 1994 and 1999. The seed of the personas idea was described in his 1994 paper Beyond Segmentation. The goal was to go beyond traditional segmentation to understand the essential or archetypal characteristics of a customer community. Between 1996 and 2001, with the collaboration of Michael Jacobs, a series of papers describing the methods and giving examples were posted to OgilvyOne’s online knowledge base Truffles and used in 40 countries under the proprietary name ‘CustomerPrints’ to enhance service and customer loyalty in one-to-one brand marketing. International courses teaching scores of participants from some 25 countries were run with the OgilvyOne worldwide group and used in a substantial number of major brand interventions, including by OgilvyOne’s digital group, OgilvyOne Interactive.
Jenkinson's approach was to describe an imaginal character in their real interface, behaviour and attitudes with the brand, and the idea was initially realized with Michael Jacobs in a series of examples, including Harley owners and UK supermarket shoppers.
Parallel to this Alan Cooper, a noted pioneer software developer, developed a related concept. From 1995 he became engaged with how a specific rather than generalized users would use and interface with software. The technique was popularized in his 1999 book 'The Inmates are Running the Asylum'. In this book, Cooper outlines the general characteristics, uses and best practices for creating personas, recommending that software be designed for single archetypal users.
A similar approach was applied in 1998 by Jenkinson in designing the CRM systems for the Vodafone group. The objective was to make it easier for marketing management to sign off the specification of the system. It involved imagining and describing how a single marketing manager would interface with the system during a typical day.
Online brands blending needs for management of branding, interaction with communities of interest and user interface design readily accepted these ideas. Brand planners apply a similar concept known as pen portraits.

Advantages of personas

According to Pruitt and Adlin, 2006, the use of personas offers several benefits in product development (cf. Grudin and Pruitt, 2002; Cooper, 1999). Personas are said to be cognitively compelling because they put a personal human face on otherwise abstract data about customers. By thinking about the needs of a fictional persona, designers may be better able to infer what a real person might need. Such inference may assist with brainstorming, use case specification, and feature definition. Pruitt and Adlin argue that personas are easy to communicate to engineering teams and thus allow engineers, developers, and others to absorb customer data in a palatable format. They present several examples of personas used for purposes of communication in various development projects (Pruitt and Adlin, 2006).
Personas also help prevent some common design pitfalls which may otherwise be easy to fall into. The first is designing for what Cooper calls 'The Elastic User' - by which he means that while making product decisions different stakeholders may define the 'user' according to their convenience. Defining personas helps the team have a shared understanding of the real users in terms of their goals, capabilities and contexts. Personas also help prevent "self referential design" when the designer or developer may unconsciously project their own mental models on the product design which may be very different from that of the target user population. Personas also provide a reality check by helping designers keep the focus of the design on cases that are most likely to be encountered for the target users and not on edge cases which usually won't happen for the target population. According to Cooper, edge cases which should naturally be handled properly should not become the design focus (Cooper, 1999).


  • Help team members share a specific, consistent understanding of various audience groups. Data about the groups can be put in a proper context and can be understood and remembered in coherent stories.
  • Team members’ solutions can be guided by how well they meet the needs of individual user personas. Features can be prioritized based on how well they address the needs of one or more personas.
  • Provide a human "face" so as to focus empathy on the persons represented by the demographics.
(Cooper, 1999)

Personas based upon ethnographic research

Some designers feel that personas should be based on ethnographic research into users and should not be manufactured/fabricated. The use of ethnographic research helps the creation of a number of archetype users that can be used to develop products that deliver positive user experiences. By feeding in real data, ethnographic research allows design teams to avoid generating stereotypical users that may bear no relation to the actual user’s reality.

Criticism of personas

Criticism of personas falls into three general categories: analysis of the underlying logic, concerns about practical implementation, and empirical results (cf. Chapman and Milham, 2006; Rönkkö, 2005). In terms of logic, personas have been argued to have no clear relationship to real customer data. Personas are fictional and therefore there is no clear way to determine how many users are represented by any given persona. For this reason, critics have claimed that personas have no definite relationship to real customer data and therefore cannot be scientific. Chapman & Milham (2006) described the purported flaws in considering personas as a scientific research method.
In practice, the utility of personas on teams varies from team to team. Some development groups may adopt them readily while others may express considerable skepticism. In empirical results, the research to date has offered soft metrics for the success of personas, such as anecdotal feedback from stakeholders. Rönkkö (2005) has described how team politics and other organizational issues led to limitations of the personas method in one set of projects.


  • Carroll, John M. Making Use: Scenario-Based Design of Human-Computer Interactions. MIT Press, 2000. ISBN 0-262-03279-1
  • Carroll, J.M. ed. Scenario-Based Design: Envisioning Work and Technology in System Development. Wiley, 1995. ISBN 0-471-07659-7
  • Chapman, C.N. & Milham, R. The personas' new clothes. Human Factors and Ergonomics Society (HFES) 2006, San Francisco, CA. October 2006.
  • Cooper, Alan. The Inmates are Running the Asylum. SAMS, 1999. ISBN 0-672-31649-8
  • Grudin, J. and Pruitt, J. Personas, participatory design and product development: an infrastructure for engagement. Paper presented at Participatory Design Conference 2002, Malmo, Sweden. June 2002.
  • Jenkinson, A. (1994), Beyond Segmentation, Journal of Targeting, Marketing and Analysis for Measurement, Vol. 3 (No.1), p60-72
  • Pruitt, John & Adlin, Tamara. The Persona Lifecycle : Keeping People in Mind Throughout Product Design. Morgan Kaufmann, 2006. ISBN 0-12-566251-3
  • Rönkkö, K. An empirical study demonstrating how different design constraints, project organization, and contexts limited the utility of personas. Hawaii
International Conference on System Sciences (HICSS) 2005, Waikoloa, HI. January 2005.
personae in German: Personas
personae in Korean: 페르소나
personae in Dutch: Persona
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