Week 2 – Personas

During the analysis phase of a user-centered design process we must first find out who are we designing for, in other words learn about our users. Conducting user research is vital when it comes to understand what are their expectations, behavior and, most of all, why do users want to use our system. This is where personas step in.

Sometimes people may confuse “users” with “personas”, but in reality they are two different things. A persona is an archetypal (or fictional) illustration of a user, that focuses on one particular user group.

In general, a persona description must contain realistic information related to the user goals, behavior, attitudes, motivations and business objectives[0]. Adding biographical details will make the persona more credible. Moreover, people who develop personas often include a photo within the persona.

“Personas tell stories about users ”[0] – so the more realistic the story, the better persona can be created. And the more precise and relevant each persona representation is, the better our decisions will be, when it comes to meet users’ needs. As Alan Cooper said, personas are “profoundly simple but remarkably powerful.”

Below I present you a short example of a persona description that was conceived for one of my school projects. The goal of this project was to create a web-based application that will help students from my school to easily find their internships:

  • Name: Juliajulia
  • Age: 21
  • Year of Study: Second Year
  • Field of Study: Finances
  • School: Ensimag
  • Needs: Julia has trouble to find internships that fits her needs because most of the opportunities offered in the forums and other events organized by her school are not for her specific field of study. She has to do all the research on her own and has no unified solution to filter the opportunities.

Solution criteria: For her, the three most important criteria for choosing an internship are (in order of preference): the position she’s going to occupy, where the internship is going to be, how much the internship’s salary is. She’d love to be able to find all the opportunities that fitted her criteria together in a simple way, without having to research a lot. Julia would like to be able to expose these criteria alongside with her CV, so the enterprises that find her profile interesting could contact her.

It is very important to know how deep we can go when we have to describe a persona and how many information we shall provide, but I think it also depends on the project. The example above represents real user’s actions of a user and it shows that is very important not to forget important details when it comes to describing personas. If these details are insufficient, we might be wrongly influenced in our design decisions, so it is very important to explore as much as possible whenever we create our personas.

So how do personas help us in usability testing?

Personas provide valuable information and must be used as often as possible by designers during the project lifetime. In usability testing, personas help us create better scenario tasks, by revealing users’ goals and attitudes.

What about personas in GNOME ?

When I think about personas for usability testing in GNOME, my opinion is that we could create a very large variety of personas such as developers,  people with different professions, people with a certain level of computer expertise, students in different fields, people familiar (or not) with GNOME etc. And if we were to combine all these elements together, we might obtain a never-ending list.

In my next post for this Outreachy week 2, I will provide a complete persona example for GNOME. Check it out here! 🙂

Related links:

[0] - http://www.usabilitybok.org/persona
[Image] - http://frontdigital.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/ux-personas.jpg

3 thoughts on “Week 2 – Personas

  1. Great job! Personas are an important part of usability testing. Projects that are serious about usability testing need to have a collection of personas that are representative of their users. By using personas, a project can more easily avoid adding features “because it is cool” and instead can discuss new features or interface changes in a user-focused way. “We need to help ‘Stephanie’ .. does this change help her?” Or “How does this feature help ‘Stephen’?”


  2. Different projects will create different types of personas. For example, a programmer’s editor like GNU Emacs or GNOME Builder might only include personas for software developers and testers. A graphics tool like GIMP or Inkscape might choose to create personas for graphics professionals, photographers, website designers.

    For a general-purpose system like GNOME, which aims to support all kinds of users, defining the personas may be more difficult. You need to consider *all* of the people who would use GNOME.

    One way to define personas for GNOME is to break down the users into categories. For example: users of different ages, and users of different skill levels. This presents you with an x-y problem.

    I write about this in more detail on my blog: http://opensource-usability.blogspot.com/2015/01/on-creating-personas.html

    How you group the ages, and how you group the experience levels, is a project decision. Do you choose the simple case of “beginner/moderate/expert” users? How do you group ages? You could group ages by “generation”: Millennial ages 11-31, GenX ages 31-51, Boomers ages 51-69, and so on. Or you could use elementary-age students, junior high & high school students, college students, post-college ages 22-31, etc.

    This gives you a grid in the x-y problem, and you just need to write a persona for each box on that grid:
    someone between ages 11-31 who is a Beginner user
    someone between ages 11-31 who is a Moderate user
    someone between ages 11-31 who is an Expert user
    someone between ages 31-51 who is a Beginner user
    …and so on.

    Don’t forget to be inclusive and representative of gender and ethnicity.

    But for this exercise in Outreachy, we only need a few personas. Let’s pick an “average” user with “typical” knowledge about computers (not an expert, not a beginner). Your “Mark” persona is an excellent persona to use in your project.


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