My Articles on Personas

Confusion and information triggered by photos in persona profiles

J Salminen, S Jung, J An, H Kwak, L Nielsen, BJ Jansen

International Journal of Human-Computer Studies 129, 1-14 (2019)

Personas-User Focused Design

L Nielsen, Springer (2019)


L Nielsen

Persona Studies 4 (2) (2018)

UX in Agile before and during development

MK Larusdottir, L Nielsen, A Bruun, LB Larsen, PA Nielsen, JS Persson

Proceedings of the 10th Nordic Conference on Human-Computer Interaction, 984-987 (2018)

The role of UX professionals in agile development: a case study from industry

A Bruun, MK Larusdottir, L Nielsen, PA Nielsen, JS Persson

Proceedings of the 10th Nordic Conference on Human-Computer Interaction, 352-363 (2018)

“Is More Better?”: Impact of Multiple Photos on Perception of Persona Profiles

J Salminen, L Nielsen, S Jung, J An, H Kwak, BJ Jansen

Proceedings of the 2018 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (2018)

Fixation and Confusion: Investigating Eye-tracking Participants’ Exposure to Information in Personas

J Salminen, BJ Jansen, J An, SG Jung, L Nielsen, H Kwak

Proceedings of the 2018 Conference on Human Information Interaction. (2018)

Who are your users?: comparing media professionals’ preconception of users to data-driven personas

L Nielsen, SG Jung, J An, J Salminen, H Kwak, BJ Jansen

Proceedings of the 29th Australian Conference on Computer-Human Interaction. (2017)

Persona generation from aggregated social media data

SG Jung, J An, H Kwak, M Ahmad, L Nielsen, BJ Jansen

Proceedings of the 2017 CHI conference extended abstracts on human factors. (2017)

Developing international personas: A new intercultural communication practice in globalized societies

I Jensen, H Hautopp, L Nielsen, S Madsen

Journal of Intercultural Communication, 43, (2017)

Socio-technical HCI for ethical value exchange: a case of service design and innovation ‘at the Margins’ in resource constrained environments

J Abdelnour-Nocera, L Nielsen, LR Christensen, T Clemmensen

Human-Computer Interaction-INTERACT 2017: Adjunct Proceedings, 254-262 (2017)

“Imagine that…”—How to Activate and Capture Users’ Ability to Think Creatively about Future Use

L Nielsen, S Madsen, A Vorre Hansen

The Role of Creativity in the Management of Innovation: State of the Art and … (2017)

An empirical investigation of the practices and challenges specific to international user studies

S Madsen, L Nielsen, H Hautopp, I Jensen

IFIP Conference on Human-Computer Interaction, 132-148 (2015)

A template for design personas: analysis of 47 persona descriptions from Danish industries and organizations

L Nielsen, KS Hansen, J Stage, J Billestrup

International Journal of Sociotechnology and Knowledge Development (IJSKD) 7 …(2015)

Creating and using personas in software development: experiences from practice

J Billestrup, J Stage, A Bruun, L Nielsen, KS Nielsen

International Conference on Human-Centred Software Engineering, 251-258 (2014)

Personas is applicable: a study on the use of personas in Denmark

L Nielsen, K Storgaard Hansen

Proceedings of the SIGCHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems … (2014)

The use of personas in software development: Advantages, obstacles and experiences in practice

J Billestrup, J Stage, L Nielsen, KS Nielsen

The 36th Information Systems Research Conference in Scandinavia (IRIS 36) (2014)

International user studies: How companies collect and present data about users on international markets

L Nielsen, S Madsen, I Jensen, H Hautopp, L Mulvad

IT-Universitetet i København (2014)

Persona usage in software development: advantages and obstacles

J Billestrup, J Stage, L Nielsen, KS Hansen

Proc. of ACHI, 359-364 (2014)

Going global with personas

L Nielsen, KS Nielsen, J Stage, J Billestrup

IFIP Conference on Human-Computer Interaction, 350-357 (2013)


L Nielsen

The encyclopedia of human-computer interaction (2013)

Brugen af personas hos danske virksomheder-2012/13: En rapport om hvordan virksomheder anvender personas

L Nielsen, KS Nielsen

IT University. Technical Report Series (2013)

Personas-user focused design

L Nielsen

Springer (2013)

Personas-From poster to performance

L Nielsen, KS Nielsen

Proceedings of the Participatory Innovation Conference, 272-275 (2013)

Personas in co-creation and co-design

L Nielsen

Proceedings of the 11th Human-Computer Interaction Research Symposium, 38-40 (2011)

Personas in cross-cultural projects

L Nielsen

IFIP Working Conference on Human Work Interaction Design, 76-82. (2009)

Exploring persona-scenarios-using storytelling to create design ideas

S Madsen, L Nielsen

IFIP Working Conference on Human Work Interaction Design, 57-66 (2009)

Using storytelling to improve scenarios

S Madsen, L Nielsen

Proceedings of the IADIS International Conference Information Systems …(2009)

Personas–communication or process

L Nielsen

Proceedings of Seventh Danish HCI Research Symposium 25 (2007)

Ten steps to personas

L Nielsen

Journal of HCI Vistas 3 (2007)

Storytelling as method for sharing knowledge across IT projects

L Nielsen, S Madsen

Proceedings of the 39th Annual Hawaii International Conference on System … (2006)

Using storytelling to reflect on IT projects

L Nielsen, S Madsen

Journal of Information Technology Theory and Application (JITTA) 7 (4), 6 (2006)

Then the picture comes in your mind of what you have seen on TV-A study of personas descriptions and use

L Nielsen

Research Symposium, 68 (2005)

How to use design games to create engaging personas

L Nielsen, E Brandt (2005)

Design Through Engagement

L Nielsen

Computer Interaction Research Symposium, 67 (2004)

Engaging Personas and Narrative Scenarios: A study on how user-centered approach influenced the perception of the design process in the e-business group at AstraZeneca

L Nielsen

Samfundslitteratur (2004)

A model for personas and scenarios creation

L Nielsen

Roskilde, Denmark 71 (2003)

Constructing the user

L Nielsen

Human-computer interaction: theory and practice 430 (2003)

From user to character: an investigation into user-descriptions in scenarios

L Nielsen

Proceedings of the 4th conference on Designing interactive systems … (2002)

Why use Scenarios?

L Nielsen

Learning and narrativity in digital media, 165 (2002)

Understanding Users: Merging Video Card Games with Model-users and Scenarios

L Nielsen, G Petersen (2002)

Scenarios: A Design Tool to Ensure User-narratives

L Nielsen

Learning and narrativity in digital media, 165-181 (2002)

Culture and Personas Perception

This experiment originates from a comment posted on the forum connected to Journal of the HCI Vistas. Here Dinesh Katre wrote; ‘I have always found it difficult to visualize or understand the characters illustrated in the books of P. G. Woodhouse because all are British personalities and I have not lived in Briton so long to understand these personalities as they are quite culture specific.’ (29-01-08). This made me wonder how personas descriptions are perceived and whether culture influences the perception.

Read the article here.

Personas in a cultural world

Research points to, that cultural cultural different readers fill the narrative gaps that occur in every text differently. Having this in mind, it becomes interesting to see how different readers interpret a persona description, as differences in interpretation might have impact on cross-cultural projects. 

In the following I will report from two studies of how people from different cultures perceive a persona description. The first study is reported here at pp. 43-46 and involved six participants from India, China and Denmark, most were young and students. This study was followed by a second study with eight participants from Japan, Brazil, France, Holland, Russia, New Zealand, Germany and USA. All were familiar with the persona method and all were usability professionals.

The persona portrayed a person working with marketing. The description was written in such a way that there were no cues in the text of age, gender and culture.
In both studies the participants were asked to: 1) read a persona description. 2) find a photo on the internet that resembled the persona. 3) write a short comment on why they had chosen this particular photo. 4) mail both photo and comment to me.

The two studies showed interesting differences.

The two photos show suggestions for the persona from the first and second study, respectively.Strategies for finding photosIn the accounts for the choice of photo there seems to be two strategies at play; either interpreting or looking for clues in the description:Interpreting the text and using the interpretation as explanation for the choice of photo ‘I don’t know why but I tend to associate obesity with reluctance to new technology mindset. Don’t ask me why!’(Indian informant 3). ‘Information Technology means he would earn more money than average’ (Chinese informant 1).Finding a specific description in the text that serves as explanation for the choice of photo. ‘She has young children and therefore she could not be old’ (Danish informant 2). ‘he has no time to do much exercise, so he may be a little fat’ (Chinese informant 2).Conclusions from the first studyMost participants picked a photo of a person in a business suit, even the only photo of a female.
Three participants from India and China chose photos of western looking business men, the rest of the participants chose photos of locals.The photos from the male Danish participants show persons with a typical Danish look, the female participant chose a person with a non-Danish expression.All of the Danish participants chose photos of younger persons that chosen by the other participants.There seems to be a shared and stereotypical comprehension of how a business person looks – despite culture.Most chose non local appearance.Conclusions from the second studyThe photos were more mixed in appearanceIn general they portrayed older personsThere was no unambiguous choice of photosFew chose a photo of a business stereotype (except one who has worked with personas)All chose local appearanceAnalysis of both studies showThe participants chose the age of the persona based on their own age.1st experiment: the photos depicted younger persons. Among the participant were several student2nd experiment: the photos depicted older personas. All participants were professionals.The experienced usability professionals had a higher tendency to choose photos of local1st experiment: several chose non-local apperance.2nd experiment: all chose local appearance.The experienced used interpretation of the text as a strategy for finding photos while most of the participants in the first experiment chose to find cues in the text, when they argued for.There seems to be gender stereotypes at play. When men a depicted they are more often in surroundings showing them with their children as the persona is described as one who cares for the family. When women are depicted they are more often in business surroundings.ConclusionThe two studies have several outcomes concerning cross cultural projects:It showed that it is quite easy for the writer to incorporate implicit information. In the first study the writer had given the persona children of a certain age. Together with the age of the persona this, unintended, pointed to a westerner. An Indian reader caught this information immediately as it did not fit with the cultural experience for India.It showed that the readers used their own background when trying to understand the persona description and they used persons in their intimate surroundings in order to relate to the persona description. ’I assume I know the person, because of my previous career and involvement in advertising. I, from the get go, had an idea of how I presumed this person to look, since to me we all looked alike at the agency after a while.. I took inspiration from my former superiors and my general ideas of how people in his position dress and tend to appear physically.’(Danish Informant). ’He has a French look (he looks like my brother in law who has similar position in a company).’ (French Informant). ‘Based on some elements in the text I might be more inclined to make it a male, but then again (being the son of a working mother), there is nothing that will not make it possible in the Netherlands to let this persona be a woman.’ (Dutch informant)When reading a description the readers use two different strategies when depicting the persona; either interpreting or looking for clues in the description. Especially the interpretation strategy and the use of known persons might create unintended results in cross-cultural projects and points to, how crucial it is to get the descriptions verified by locals.AcknowledgementsI want to thank the CultUsab project and UX Alliance and all the participants.

The effect of personas is finally proved

In the research Paper – Real or Imaginary: The effectiveness of using personas in product design by Frank Long, the author investigates the effectiveness of using personas. The results showed that personas:

  • Produces designs with superior usability characteristics.
  • Provide a significant advantage during the research and conceptualisation stages of the design process.
  • Photographs works better than illustrations.
  • Visual storyboards are more effective in presenting task scenarios than text only versions.

Personas made from quantitative data

Traditionally personas have been created based on interviews, observations and other qualitative methods. Earlier on I have also used segmentation tools to start from. I have recently played a minor part in an interesting research project started by Jim Jansen and his team at Hamad Bin Khalifa University in Doha, Qatar. At HBKU the have created automated personas based on a large amount of data derived from social media.

You can read more about the Automated Personas Generation here:

The use of personas in Danish companies – part 2

A global challenge

When creating persona descriptions the companies who have an international target group find the international perspective challenging.

V8: “One is from Frankfurt am Main, one is from Poland, and one is from Norway. […] we had actually decided that we want personas from around the world in order to create a broad representation of users and touch points. Whereupon we asked the question: “Do we need personas from around the world?” to our reference group. They were of the same opinion, because it makes sense as we sell to everywhere in the world [ …] the countries were not chosen coincidental, they were chosen because of their substance – if they were representative, if they covered a lot of countries.”

The specific international differences that are perceived as relevant are:

  • IT competences
  • Access to Internet
  • Language abilities
  • Differences in company autonomy/managerial responsibilities
  • Level of education

It is specifically mentioned that there is a difference between the Western and the Asian users and that the interviewed find it difficult to get data and create personas for Asian users.


Those we interviewed that work in companies with an international target group describe it as a challenge to get enough data to covers all markets. They try to deal with the challenge by collecting data from different parts of the world, but none had data from all markets.

Persona descriptions

In relation to the persona descriptions there are further challenges in having a broad and international target group. The companies applied two different strategies to solve the challenges.

  • To develop descriptions where each persona represents users from a specific country (e.g. a Finn, a Pole). Sometimes with additional information that some types of personas are more predominant in some countries than others.
  • To develop persona descriptions that are so general that they cover a lot of countries.

Some companies try to combine the two strategies by dividing the persona description into an overall part and a part that specifies the national differences.

The international perspective could be seen by strategies that used names and photos to indicate international differences and similarities, such as:

  • English names are perceived as international and the personas get names such as  Anna, Elizabeth, or Robert in order for them to cover for a broad international group.
  • The personas have specific national names in order for the reader to be able to deduct the nationality from the name, e.g. Finnish, Polish, or German sounding names.
  • The photos that accompany the descriptions and are to illustrate the persona are either of general European look, they can be blurred, or cartoons in order for the reader not to be able to deduct national characteristics.
  • Or the photos represent different types: e.g. an Asian, an African, a Westerner.

Advantages of using personas when working in international teams 

The method is perceived as having even more advantages when development happens across languages, departments, and countries compared to development in an internal and national setting. For international teams the method provides a common point of reference and a common understanding of the users and their needs. At the same time the method hinders project participants in using their own local experiences.


This example of an international persona is from the Royal Library, here the name indicates nationality. Read all descriptions here: 


Keywords: thorough, passionate and interested in technics

Jukka is in his mid 40’es and works at a university as an ethnomusicologist. He is divorced, has no children, but about to marry his  girlfriend, who he met two years ago on one of the conferences he  frequently attends. He is very good at all sorts of electronic devices and likes to keep up on the newest smart phones and tablets. He is heavily into online social networking and keeps a weblog about his fields of interest. In his current job he works with automated music analysis of Hindustani classical music.
He is member of the society for ethnomusicology and has previously held a position as a visiting professor at the University of Mumbai.
Jukka has always been technically skilled. 30 years ago, he helped his parents and family with setting the clock at the VCR, while he played with his Amiga 500 – now he installs anti-virus programs, configure email accounts and upgrade operating systems. He has a naturally skill for it, but is not afraid to consult the manual if something doesn’t work for him. He even once used 14 evening to write a small weather app for smart phones just for the fun of it.

Jukka’s main interest is Hindustani classical music (wich was also the topic of his PhD thesis and main field of research). He travels several times a year to participate in music festivals and conferences related to his job. He always looks for concerts in the towns and countries he visits. He spends most of his free time doing things related to his passion for music and to his job, and it is difficult for him to separate job and spare time. He is part of both professional and social networks related to his interests and job, together with a lot of friends and contacts.

How can Personas be useful for developers??

Christina Braz asks:

I have just finished to read your article about personas on the Web. Although I agree with your statements I still have a question in my mind: How do Personas can be useful for developers?? You provide personas in order to developers start to develop an application. I am in the process of developing personas for a new security application and I have heard from someone else a quotation from one of our developers: “I don’t care about personas at all. I simply don’t use it.”

Christina Braz | Senior Software Engineer, UXD Team |

Answer: Most developers are not involved in the decision about using the personas and do not know how to use them. To put personas posters on the wall or quotes on mugs are just not enough.

In my experience what do help is to let the developers experience the strength of method when a persona description is put in action in a scenario. I do scenario workshops with the developers. In the workshop they learn to use the personas and they experience how thinking about personas gives them new insights for system demands and requirement specifications. Finally we talk about how they can move from the scenario descriptions to e.g. use cases or how they can use personas in their use cases.
So the short answer is Training and experiencing clear the way.