In a recent post, I mentioned a common affliction of many companies — self-centeredness. One of the best ways to beat this problem is with the use of design personas. At Forrester, we’ve published a long stream of research on the topic of design personas that goes back several years (sorry, but the full research is only available to Forrester clients). In a report that we wrote in 2003 — “Executive Q&A: Design Personas” — we defined design personas as:


A composite description of a real person who represents a primary customer segment. These descriptions contain detailed information on the motivations, goals, and preferences of a representative customer.


Why are design personas valuable?

Design personas help companies make informed, fast design decisions. By creating a shared, vivid picture of target customers’ behaviors, project teams can better evaluate how to satisfy customer needs. The impact: fewer scope creeps from unwanted and unnecessary features, faster consensus across the team, and none of the pitfalls from self-referential design.


How do they work?

Let’s say that one of your design personas is named “Jill Morgan.” The discussions in your company would change from “I want this” and “I like that” to “what do you think Jill would want?” In this way, design personas push companies to shift their focus from inside-out to outside-in.

There are three key pieces to a good persona:

  1. Primary research. Valid personas don’t come out of the blue. They emerge from user research — often requiring ethnographic techniques (sorry, but spreadsheets and data warehouses do not provide enough information about your customers).
  2. Compelling documentation. The research needs to come to life in documents (sometimes online) that help people feel like they “know” the persona.
  3. Active usage. Design personas should be incorporated within decision-making processes — from initial funding requests through detailed design tradeoffs.


If you’re interested in knowing more about design personas (and I think you should be), then read several of Moira Dorsey’s recent reports:

  • Best And Worst Of Personas, 2007
  • How To Choose – And Use – A Primary Persona
  • Common Persona Misconceptions Debunked


The bottom line: Now that you know about personas, there’s no excuse for self-centeredness!

This blog post was originally published by Temkin Group prior to its acquisition by Qualtrics in October 2018.