Try This Exercise in Creating Personas for Software Design

A persona provide context and understanding when making decisions about what to build and why. They can represent a type of user such as guest, host, admin, or an archetype like Early Adopter or Life-Long Learner. Ultimately, personas capture the patterns that emerge when talking to multiple people. They drive empathy among teams we’re working for and what is valuable to them.

The Role of Proto-Personas

Creating personas happens early in the project. Ideally, personas emerge from doing contextual research. In lieu of research, teams can create proto-personas. These are unvalidated best guesses that the team will refine through research.

While personas aren’t new, the way teams use them has evolved. It used to be that personas were demographics-focused and defined target audiences. There may be a place for this if a product has specific qualifications for things like age or role. More recently, however, product teams are finding greater traction with personas that capture:

At Atomic, we’ve played with some fun additions to this list,

  • Workarounds – Shortcuts they’ve developed to optimize their workflow
  • Crystal Ball – The trends or innovations they see changing their work in the near future
  • Wish A Feature – A feature or capability that would make their life/work easier
  • Day In The Life – A timeline of a typical day (especially if their work is procedural)
  • Rhythms & Rituals – Activities they do on daily, monthly, quarterly, and yearly cycles
  • Empathy Map – What they think, say, do and feel throughout the process or experience

A Template

Below is an example of the framework we’ve used to facilitate a proto-persona exercise. This is best done in teams either collaboratively adding to the same proto-persona or individually taking a pass and sharing it out to create one aligned proto-persona.

Proto-persona template
A template for teams to collaboratively build a proto-persona. (Click to make image larger.)


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