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:

Chang, Y., Lim, Y., & Stolterman, E. (2008). Personas: From Theory to Practices. Proceedings of the 5th Nordic Conference on Human-Computer Interaction: Building Bridges, 439–442.

In the theory of the human-centered-design, personas are an essential technique that help designers to understand, describe, and clarify user’s goals and behavior [4,5,6,8,15,18,20,21], some main criteria should be take in consideration while designing a persona.

A persona is created to understand a group of users’ behavior, needs, and goals, it should primarily designed as a user description of characteristics, presented in text and image format [4].

While in practice, practitioners may define Personas differently, as a beneficial tool to communicate with stakeholders, guiding design decision by facilitating the design process, and having more specific outcome.

The article states a distinction between the definition and the use of Personas in theory and in practice:

  Theory Practice
Personas construction:


What we should based on while creating a persona?



Based on the user studies only. The user studies.

The designers’ experiences and assumptions.


Personas generation:


How personas are generated?


Based on the user research results.[8] [18] The designers’ own thoughts.
Personas representation:


What a persona represent?

A persona is to: “design for just one person”. [6][4][5] The creation of a persona is based on a mash up of a group of users not only a single user
The timing of personas creation:


When the created of a complete persona is finished?

Goal-directed design at the beginning of the design A Persona can be created at others stages of the design process and can’t be finished till the end of the design process, because by it is nature, personas keep being modified and updated .
Personas use:


Is a hand construction of a persona influence the type of use of a persona?


Using an imaginary persona based on previous literature, without a main construction of persona leads to: an unspoken persona in mind. The use of a self-made persona enhance its credibility and understanding
Personas interactivity and dynamic:


Are personas static or flexible during the design process?

Personas are unchangeable and a fixed image and description about users, designed at the first Personas are interactive, flexible, change with the design process dynamically according to the designer preferences and the design context.


Even if practitioners use the theory to enrich their mind with the methodological approach of creating a persona, but, when it comes to the design process in practice, many attributes changes, the content of the personas, the timing of the persona generation, the use of the personas and what a persona should refer to, all this differ from theory to practice.

Main keywords:

Personas, design process, theory, practice, personas creation, personas use, personas interactivity.


[1] Adlin, T. Ad Hoc or “Assumption” Personas. Retrieved Apr. 6, from evaluation/2007/03/create_personas.php

[2] Antle, A. N. 2006. Child-Persona: Fact or Fiction? In: Proceedings of DIS06: Designing Interactive Systems: Processes, Practices, Methods & Techniques. ACM Press, New York, pp. 22-30.

[4] Cooper, A. 1999. The Inmates Are Running the Asylum, Indianapolis, Sams.

[5] Cooper A., Reimann R., Cronin, D. 2007. About Face 3: The Essentials of Interaction Design. Indianapolis, Wiley.

[6] Cooper A. 2003. The Origin of Personas. Retrieved June 12, 2008, from origin_of_personas.html

[7] Fried, J. 2007. Ask 37signals: Personas? Retrieved Feb. 19, 2007, from

[8] Goodwin, K. 2001. Perfecting Your Personas. Retrieved Oct. 24, 2007, from perfecting_your_personas.html

[13] The Interaction Design Association (IXDA) online community. 2007. Retrieved Nov. 19, 2007, from

[15] Mulder, S. & Yaar, Z. 2007. The User is Always Right: A Practical Guide to Creating and Using Personas for the Web. Berkely: The New Riders.

[16] Norman, D. 2004. Ad-Hoc Personas & Empathetic Focus. Retrieved Feb. 9, 2008, from

[18] Perfetti, C. 2007. Goal-Directed Design: An Interview with Kim Goodwin. Retrieved Jan. 29, 2008, from

[19] Porter, J. 2008. Personas and the Advantage of Designing for Yourself. Retrieved Feb. 3, 2008, from

[20] Pruitt, J. & Adlin, T. 2006. The Persona Lifecycle. San Francisco: Morgan Kaufmann.

[21] Pruitt, J. & Grudin J. 2003. Personas: Practice and Theory. Proceedings of the 2003 Conference on Designing for User Experience, ACM Press, New York.

[22] Saffer, D. 2005. Persona Non Grata. Retrieved Nov. 7 2007, from: 524.php

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