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Re-check your assumptions

Develop personas describing your users

DFA UC Davis
Develop Personas describing your users


Better understanding of major stakeholder’s background, needs and goals as they relate to your How Can We statement.

It is extremely important to keep your users in mind throughout the design process-- this is user-centered design, after all! A persona is an empathy technique that uses a brief, memorable, and representative description of various users to guide your design throughout later design phases.

A fictional person made to represent a type of individual within your challenge context by giving him/her a name, history, and story that epitomizes that role.

From the stakeholder map activity, your team knows that your problem has a complex network of major and minor stakeholders and that different solutions will affect different stakeholders. Major players can be specific individuals, for example, ‘Dean Carlson’, or an organizational position, e.g., ‘School Administrator.’ Faceless entities that interact with your challenge context (e.g. generic administrator) will be given a face through the exercise of persona creation.  As you create personas for your major stakeholders, you should also keep the needs of your minor stakeholders in mind.
Name:  Pick a distinct, realistic name for each persona that is easy to remember. Your name should also come with a signifier of where your persona fits into the problem space. When making multiple personas, pick a variety of names that reflect the diversity of the personalities and demographics of your stakeholders. Alliteration can make personas easier to remember, e.g., "Vanessa the Varsity Athlete" or “Patricia the Perfectionist.”
Photo:  Choose a friendly headshot of a real person to help you build a mental picture of the persona. Avoid pictures of models, stereotypical images, or distracting pictures-- this should look like a picture of a real person!
Biographic Information/Background:  To make your persona memorable (and personable!) you need to add details. The personal information doesn't have to be completely accurate, as long as it is precise! All of the parts should fit together in a way that feels like a real person. Some of the background information will be project specific; for instance, if you are doing a healthcare project, you may want to include general health status in your persona. Lastly, not all of the background information has to do directly with the challenge context--by including other information such as hobbies, favorites, etc., you can open yourself to possible solutions that you hadn’t necessarily considered before.
Story: The story is a 2-3 paragraph mini-narrative of your persona that summarizes your persona's involvement with your challenge context. Your story should consider both tangible actions (what they do) and motivators/emotions (why they do) before, during and after your user engages with the problem. The story should also briefly describe how your stakeholders interact with each other.
Your stories should mention:
  • Past experience with the challenge context: How long have they been interacting with your topic? How experienced are they? What do they know? How do they typically behave?
  • Current status: How are they currently interacting with your topic? What things affect how they go about achieving their goals?
  • Future plans: When are they going to act, and how? How will future behavior change from current behavior? When, how and why might their behavior change in the future?
  • Motivators: Why do they want or need to interact with your topic?
  • Pain points: Where are they currently experiencing problems? What things drive them crazy?
  • Interaction with other stakeholders: How do they perceive and interact with other stakeholders? What do they need or want from the other stakeholders?
Challenge: The personas challenge is your team’s HCW reframed into the perspective of this particular persona. It may be a direct goal (i.e., How can I…?) or it may revolve around solving their specific problem. Every stakeholder will play a slightly different role in your team’s larger HCW. By reframing the team’s HCW to target each specific stakeholder, your team will be better able to prioritize different design decisions and target future pitches to the needs of particular stakeholders.


Critique questions
  1. What strikes you as most important about the stakeholder?
  2. Is there anything unclear about the current stakeholder personas?
  3. Do you see any needs for particular stakeholders that could be explored?
  4. What other areas should the team explore next?
  5. If you were on this team, what actions would you take next?


1. Identify 3-4 major stakeholders
REMEMBER: Keep in mind your team’s current HCW, the specific action or mindset you are targeting, and what influences those actions or mindsets. In general, your major stakeholders will be your primary users and anyone who has a significant influence over how your primary users behave or interact with your topic.
2. Gather information, quotes, stories and photos from your notes.
REMEMBER: If you know that you are missing information about particular stakeholders that you identified as important, make a note and find as much information as you can about those stakeholders before performing the persona’s activity.

3. Choose a major stakeholder.
REMEMBER: Organized notes that everyone can see all at once will help your team remember all relevant information and make complete personas.

4. Name, photo, and biographical information
5. Background and desires
6. Motivations and pain points
REMEMBER: Consider what encourages your persona and why they struggle (or do not struggle) to achieve their objective.

7. Main goals and quote
REMEMBER: If they were designing a solution, what would their design objectives be? Be sure these objectives are supported by the information you have written above. Consider what your persona wants and how they may be willing to obtain their objective.

8. Immediate debrief
REMEMBER: Ask these questions to clarify/determine needed next steps (feel free to add other questions as needed):
  • In creating the persona, did you notice anything interesting? What strikes you as most important about this persona?
  • Did you find a gap in your research? Was there anything you didn't know that you felt you should?
  • Has it changed the way that you see this person or organization interacting with your challenge context?
  • Are there any assumptions your team made that you think should be researched further?

9. Repeat for all major stakeholders
REMEMBER: The 5 basic components of a DFA Persona are:
  1. Name and biographical information: make it distinct and add realistic details based on research.
  2. Photo: a friendly headshot.
  3. Background and plans: experiences they have had around your problem space and what are their future plans.
  4. Motivations and pain points: what and why do they do and what struggles do they have.
  5. Goals: HCWs reframed in the perspective of this particular persona.

10. Full debrief and next steps
REMEMBER: These personas will be referenced heavily and serve as a constant reminder of who you are designing for and what their specific problem/perspective is. You will pull them out during ideation, idea refinement, prototyping, and pitching. They should be neat, legible, and accessible by all team members and mentors. After completing these personas, your team should consider completing the empathy map activity as a way to put yourself in the mindset of your user even further.
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