From flat file to interface: Synthesis of personas and analytics for enhanced user understanding

The persona approach is a communicative design technique for understanding users.

With increasing access to analytics data, personas are more and more generated from online user statistics using big data and algorithmic approaches.

This integration offers new opportunities to shift personas from flat files of data presentation to that of interactive interfaces for analytics systems.

We illustrate this transition towards the concept of “persona as interface” with a persona analytics system, Automatic Persona Generation (APG).

In pushing advancements of both persona and analytics conceptualization, development, and use, the APG system presents a multi‐layered “full‐stack” integration. APG affords three levels of user data presentation, which are (a) the conceptual persona, (b) the analytical user metrics, and (c) the foundational user data. The result is a better tool than either persona or analytics along for user understanding.

Moving to a “personas as interfaces” approach offers the benefits of both personas and analytics systems and addresses some of the shortcomings of each. We provide results from user experiments of and use cases for APG the research article linked below.

Jansen, B. J. Jung, S.G., and Salminen, J. (2020) From Flat File to Interface: Conceptual Synthesis of Personas and Analytics for Enhanced User Understanding. 83rd Annual Meeting of the Association for Information Science and Technology. Pittsburgh, PA, USA, 23-28 October 23-28. 1-11.


APG Wins Qatar Foundation Innovation of the Year 2020 Award !!!


APG Wins Innovation of the Year 2020APG Wins Innovation of the Year 2020

The Qatar Foundation EMPOWERING INNOVATION 2020 Virtual Awards Ceremony and Innovation Showcase was held (virtually) 14-15 October in Doha, Qatar. As mentioned by Dr. Richard O’ Kennedy, VP QF RDI, “Innovation is an absolute necessity in achieving national and global sustainability developmental goals. It is vital for modern societies to function efficiently and to address today’s complex challenges ….”

We are pleased to announce that the APG Project earned The Innovation of the Year Award 2020!

Thanks go out to out the GREAT local Qatar-based stakeholders and collaborators — Al Jazeera English, Al Jazeera Arabic, AJ+, AJ+ Arabic, AJ+ Español, AJ+ Français, Qatar Airways, and the Qatar Foundation. It is YOUR collaboration that made this project possible!

If your organization is interested in working with the APG Team on cutting edge research, please reach out to us by contacting the project leader, Jim Jansen at

The Innovation of the Year Award  goes to the team that developed an invention or creative work that was licensed out exclusively for commercialization purposes between 1 January 2018 to 30 June 2020.
For QF RDI, licensing QF IP to existing or start-up companies, is the hoped-for goal. That is because it is only in commercial implementation that society is positively impacted. For the winning invention or creative work to be successful, it had to meet certain
standards, namely, having IP protection in place, being geared towards and applicable as a product or service, having some disruptive aspect, and creating impact for Qatar.


Personas for Book on Data-Driven Personas

For our forthcoming book, “Data-driven Personas”, we have three personas that we are using to design the book’s content.

Personas for Data-Driven Personas
Personas for Data-Driven Personas book.

Data-Driven Personas
by Bernard J. Jansen, Joni O. Salminen, Kathleen Guan, and Soon-Gyo Jung
Hamad Bin Khalifa University (HBKU) and Georgetown University

Synthesis Lectures on Human-Centered Informatics
Morgan & Claypool Publishers

Jansen, B. J., Salminen, J., and Jung, S.G. (2020) Data-Driven Personas for Enhanced User Understanding: Combining Empathy with Rationality for Better Insights to AnalyticsData and Information Management. 4(1), 1- 17.


In Theory, Personas Work. In Practice, Their Application is Challenging.

This post is co-authored with Imene Belabbas, a persona enthusiast who is conducting her thesis research on personas.


The post aligns some theories about the use of Personas in design process, and how personas should be. The insights are based on the research published by Chang and colleagues:

Automatic Persona Generator

Digitali Speaking Podcast #04: Data loving geeks will love listening to this episode!

Digit@li Speaking with Jim Jansen from QCRI
Digitali Speaking with Jim Jansen from QCRI by Ali Sikandar

Here it is folks, the much awaited episode of Digitali Speaking with Jim Jansen from QCRI.

Digitali Speaking is produced by Ali Sikandar.

Joni Salminen
Soon-gyo Jung
Web browsers:
Apple podcast:

Jansen, B. J., Salminen, J., and Jung, S.G. (2020) Data-Driven Personas for Enhanced User Understanding: Combining Empathy with Rationality for Better Insights to AnalyticsData and Information Management. 4(1), 1-7.

Persona Research Persona Thinking Personas

Theory of Personas: What Has Been Written About the Psychological Relationship Between Personas and Their Users?

In this blog post, the APG team and Kathleen Guan join to summarize some key aspects in the theory of “why personas work,” grounded in notions from social psychology. Enjoy reading!

Introduction to Theory of Personas

How do people form a connection with personas? What information plays a role? When does connecting take place? When not? These are some of the questions that the theory of personas deals with — essentially, the theory of personas explains why personas work.

Persona Thinking Personas

Connected Personas: Primary, Secondary, Served, and Anti-Personas

Often, people think of personas as a one-layered concept. Meaning, there is only one set of personas they consider. This set is typically the current customers (e.g., most loyal or most valuable) or potential customers (e.g., those currently served by the competitors).

However, an interesting alternative is to consider personas in a connected way. Meaning, there are many persona sets that are inter-related.

  • Primary personas = these are the main targets of decision-making, i.e., the customers or users of a product. For example, the highest-paying customers.
  • Secondary personas = these are personas that have additional needs for which you can adjust the product or service, without harming the experience of the primary personas. For example, visually impaired users (e.g., you can increase the font size without it affecting negatively the user experience of primary users — many accessibility best practices fall into this category).
  • Served personas = these are personas that are not customers or users of your company, but are affected by the use of the product. For example, say your personas describe receptionists at a hotel. Served personas would be the customers of the receptionists. Essentially, the clients of your client.
  • Anti-personas = these are users or customers that are not the users of the product or services of your company, and are not directly affected by the product either. For example, a hotel cleaner would most likely not be affected by the work of the receptionist directly. Sometimes, thinking of who the persona is not helps flesh out the parts that make the persona unique.

In conclusion, prioritization is needed to focus on one persona set at a time. Simultaneously, it is important to aknowledge that other persona sets also exist. To visually represent different persona sets and their connections (especially between primary, secondary, and served personas), one can create a persona map, which a diagram that shows the connections of the different persona sets.