What It Is and What You Learn

A persona is a fictional person who represents a major user group for your site.

Personas help you identify major user groups of your Web site. You select the characteristics that are most representative of those groups and turn them into a persona.

Creating a Persona


A persona usually includes a name and a picture. You will need to add some demographics such as age, education, ethnicity, or family status. Give the persona a job title and include their major responsibilities. Include the goals and tasks they are trying to complete using the site and their environment (i.e., physical, social, and technological). Also you can include a quote that sums up what matters most to the persona as it relates to your site.

Selecting a Name and Photo

You make up the persona’s name. Select one that represents that user group. Be relevant and serious; humor usually is not appropriate here.

For a picture, you can buy or license stock photography, although a more casual photo often resonates more with development teams. Don’t use a picture of someone the team knows and make sure you have permission to use the photo. You will know it is a good representation of the user group if the team says – oh yes that reminds of that individual.

Benefits of Personas

Using personas helps the team focus on the users’ goals and needs. The team can concentrate on designing a manageable set of personas knowing they represent the needs of many users. By always asking, “Would Jim use this?” the team can avoid the trap of building what users ask for rather than what they will actually use.

Design efforts can be prioritized based on designs. Designs can be constantly evaluated against the personas and disagreements over design decisions can be sorted by referring back to the personas.

According to Forrester, many companies including Ford Motor Company, Microsoft, and Staples develop and use personas and they report many benefits from doing so, including:

  • a better understanding of customers
  • shorter design cycles
  • improved product quality

Example of a Persona

picture of Matthew Johnson, subject of sample personaThe following example is only a small portion of a larger persona developed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Economic Research Service (ERS).
USDA Senior Manager Gatekeepers
Matthew Johnson

Program Staff Director, USDA

Matthew is 51-year-old married father of three children and one grandchild. He has a Ph.D. in Agricultural Economics who spends his work time requesting and reviewing research reports, preparing memos and briefs for agency heads, and supervising staff efforts in food safety and inspection. He is focused, goal-oriented within a strong leadership role. One of his concerns is maintaining quality across all output of programs. He is comfortable using a computer and refers to himself as an intermediate Internet user. He is connected via a T1 connection at work and dial-up at home. He uses email extensively and uses the web about 1.5 hours during his work day. He is most likely heard saying: “Can you get me that staff analysis by Tuesday?”

Persona developed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Economic Research Service (ERS).


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