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.

New white paper on international user studies

Articleed January 30th, 2015 | Lene Nielsen | Personas (DK)Personas (UK).International user studies: How companies collect and present data about users on international markets

Download the report here (mangler Report_International-user-studies-20141.pdf)


In this report, we present the results of a research project about international user studies.The project has been carried out by researchers from the Center for Persona Research and –Application, The IT University in Copenhagen and the Department of Learning and Philosophy, Aalborg University.Based on a qualitative interview study with 15 user researchers from 11 different companies, we have investigated how companies collect and present data about users on international marketsCompanies do not collect data about end users in all the countries/regions they operate in.Instead, they focus on a few strategic markets. Key findings are:

  • Companies do not collect data about end users in all the countries/regions they operate in. Instead, they focus on a few strategic markets.
  • International user studies tend to be large-scale studies that involve the effort of many both internal and external/local human resources. The studies typically cover 2-4 countries/regions and many end users in each country/region.
  • The preferred data collection method is . If possible, user researchers choose to go to the field themselves and gain rich insights and to control the data collection process.
  • The preferred data collection method is
  • The main insights companies gain from international user studies are (1) that there are many similarities among end users across nationalities and (2) that it often is more important to focus on and take differences in market conditions into account than national culture per se.
  • Companies are in the process of finding out how to best present the insights about their international end users to their employees. However, so far, no best practice for incorporating both national cultural differences and cross-cultural similarities into personadescriptions, segmentations, etc. has been found.

Chapter about Personas on

The persona method has developed from being a method for IT system development to being used in many other contexts, including development of products, marketing, planning of communication, and service design. Despite the fact that the method has existed since the late 1990s, there is still no clear definition of what the method encompasses. Common understanding is that the persona is a description of a fictitious person, but whether this description is based on assumptions or data is not clear, and opinions also differ on what the persona description should cover. Furthermore, there is no agreement on the benefits of the method in the design process; the benefits are seen as ranging from increasing the focus on users and their needs, to being an effective communication tool, to having direct design influence, such as leading to better design decisions and defining the product’s feature set (Cooper, 1999; Cooper et al, 2007; Grudin & Pruitt, 2002; Long, 2009;Ma & LeRouge, 2007; Miaskiewicz & Kozar, 2011; Pruitt & Adlin, 2006).

Read more at:

Brugen af personas hos danske virksomheder – 2012/13

En rapport om hvordan virksomheder anvender personas

Denne rapport er skrevet på baggrund af et projekt initieret og finansieret af InfinIT – Innovationsnetvørket for IT.

Formålet med projektet er at undersøge hvorledes personas i dag etableres, kommunikeres, anvendes og vedligeholdes i forskellige typer af virksomheder samt etablere et opdateret søt af anbefalinger for deres anvendelse. Virksomheders erfaringer med personas vil blive adresseret fra to forskellige vinkler:. Fokus vil bl.a. vøre på hvordan personas udvikles og vedligeholdes, om og hvordan de bruges, og hvad de bruges til.

Personas er beskrivelser af fiktive brugere og bruges i designprocesser. Beskrivelserne er skabt på baggrund af data indsamlet om slutbrugerne. En samling af personas, som regel mellem 2 og 6 beskrivelser, vil i denne rapport benøvnes et personasøt.

Når personabeskrivelserne indgår i designprocessen bruges de til at få ideer til og beskrive, hvordan brugerne vil anvende et nyt produkt. Disse beskrivelser kan antage mange forskellige former, de kan vøre fortøllinger, use cases, eller tidlige sketches eller prototyper. Vi vil i denne rapport kalde dem for scenarier.

Rapporten er udført af Lene Nielsen, lektor IT Universitetet, København (ITU) og forskningsassistent Kira Storgaard Nielsen, ITU.

Rapporten er skrevet på baggrund af 18 interviews med 28 personer foretaget i 13 virksomheder i december 2012 og januar 2013.

The use of personas in Danish companies part 3

Changes and similarities in the application of the method

Even though this survey was done as independent research with interviews in 12 core companies, it is interesting to compare with the previous study done in 2009 to see if there are changes in the application of the method

Before doing so it is important to stress that the surveys are different in focus, they have different questionnaires, and the previous survey did not include questions on personas in an international perspective.

More companies use personas

Comparing the surveys it is evident that more companies have used the method for a longer period of time. Still most common is to have used the method between one to four years, but at present more companies have used the method as long as up till ten years.

In the 2013 survey all interviewed companies have participated in developing personas this is different from the previous survey as here more companies had personas entirely developed by consultancies. In the 2013 survey some companies had consultancies or business partners help them in the personas development process, but they had all partaken in the process or done the entire work in-house.

It spreads in ever-widening circles

A new trend in using personas is a chance in the companies systems developing method and more mention that they started using personas when they began to develop using agile methods. Common in the surveys are that most interviewed mentions positive experiences from their own network as the reason why they started using the method.

Level of satisfaction

There is no difference in how satisfied the companies are in using the method and the benefits the method provides in the different surveys. The mentioned benefits are that it provides a common language to describe the users and their needs. Only one disadvantage is mentioned and that is that the method is expensive and time consuming.


The challenges differ amongst the two studies: in 2009 the main challenge was to make the method visible in the organisation. This seems no longer to be a problem some companies even report that they have difficulties in keeping up with the organisation’s demand for personas. Even though it was difficult to make the method visible in 2009 personas were mainly positively received. In 2013 it is no longer a problem to create awareness and focus on the method, but it happens that it is met with resistance from either management or colleagues.

The Use of Personas in Danish Companies – 2012/13 (Part 1)


part 1

March 2013


This report is based on a project initiated and financed by Infinit – the IT Innovation Network.

The report is based on 18 interviews with 28 participants from 13 companies, obtained from December 2012 until January 2013.

The aim of the project is to investigate how personas are established, communicated, used, and maintained in Danish companies, and, from the survey, to extract recommendations on how to develop, design, and use personas.

The company experiences will be addressed from two perspectives: with a focus on how personas are developed and maintained, and on how and to which purpose they are used.

Personas are descriptions on fictitious users that are used for design. The descriptions are based on data on end users of a given product. A set of personas normally consists of 2 to 6 descriptions. Within a design process personas are used to get ideas of use and use situation and to describe the possible use of a new product. These descriptions may vary from elaborate narratives to use cases or early descriptions of prototypes. In this report narratives, use cases, and prototypes will be referred to as scenarios.

Lene Nielsen, Associate Professor at the IT University, Copenhagen (ITU) and Research Assistant Kira Storgaard Nielsen, ITU.


The following recommendations are based on the interviews and the participants’ experiences of when the personas method is a success.

Thorough data gives credibility
There is a tendency towards that a thorough qualitative data material is convincing. At the same time the probability that the method will resonate with a larger part of a company’s employees is greater if there is reference to thorough quantitative data.

Have support in the organization from both employees and management
To succeed with personas, it is necessary to have support from both project participants and management. Furthermore, to not prevent resistance against the method, it is necessary to consider how the persona method is to be disseminated – it should from the beginning of a project be considered how project participants should use the personas and how a positive attitude towards the method can be created.

Consider which tasks the personas have to solve
It is a recurring theme in the interviews that personas help project teams to create a shared understanding of the end users and to create a shared language for describing the end users. However, in order for the persona method to be successful it is important that the project team accomplish more than the understanding of end-users. It is therefore advisable already from the outset of a project to consider to which purpose and for which specific tasks the personas are created.

The method is described as a success when:

  • The personas become a design tool
  • The persona descriptions can be used to create scenarios
  • Personas are used directly in the developing processes e.g. for design or sales.

Separate persona and scenarios
Even though personas are first fully successful when they can be used as design tools and to create scenarios, the method seems to function best when there is a strict distinction between personas and scenarios. If the persona description and the scenarios are too intertwined the description is locked to the specific situation described. This makes it complicated to adapt the persona description to new scenarios.

The descriptions should enable empathy
Personas are successful when they can be perceived with empathy, e.g. when the employees refer to the persona descriptions almost as people they know. This is not the same as saying that it is necessary for the personas description to gain sympathy. But rather that it is necessary for the employees to feel a wish to develop for the personas. Even joking about personas creates a focus and makes it clear to the developers that their users are different from themselves e.g. the personas’ level of IT proficiency.

Make the persona descriptions visibly different
This can be done by means of color-coding, pictures, tag lines etc.

Example of tag line from Aarhus Library: ”Expectant user/quality-conscious”. See all descriptions at

The persona method should be incorporated as part of the toolbox
In the interviews it is described how personas are ‘in the back of the head’, instead personas should be an internalized part of the company’s method toolbox.

Share knowledge about personas in the organization
Organize way to share knowledge in order for the persona method to be visible in the projects – and not just located in the individual project participant’s memory.

The study shows that the personas are often linked to, used, and understood by individual employees rather than shared among the whole company. This might result in lesser value and that knowledge disappears if an employee leaves.

Keep the method alive
Consider how to maintain the personas and make them live. This can be done by e.g. hanging persona posters at visible places.


Personas are used for a multiple of purposes and to solve many different types of problems. They are used for product design, IT-development, communication, and marketing. The method is also used in projects with a variation in length, both weeklong projects and projects that span over several years.

The interviewed perceive the persona method as well established in their companies and the persona descriptions as something that sits in the back of the head is articulated in several interviews.

There is a span between how this foundation of the method is carried out e.g. in how often the method is used and how standardised the method is. The method is mainly perceived as one tool among many and most companies have an ad hoc approach to the development and use of personas.

Some companies experience resistance towards the method. From the employees perspective this often stems from unclear strategic decisions. From management the resistance stems from insecurity in the validity concerning qualitative methods. From this last issue it can be concluded that quantitative data has higher impact than qualitative data and is considered of more value.

There is no connection between the amount and depth of the data upon which the personas are grounded and how satisfied the companies are when using the persona descriptions. There is a tendency towards that the companies with little data are less satisfied with the method than those who have an extensive data material and – more surprisingly – less satisfied than those who have created the persona descriptions without data. This might be explained as a consequence of that those with a narrow data set are confronted with what they don’t know and that they do not find answers to their questions in the material.

Companies that operate on a global market use personas too. They report the same benefits by using the method as those operating solely in a national context, and they perceive the advantage of getting a common language across departments in many different countries with the personas as even greater.

In connection to the use of personas in a global perspective two models can be observed:

  • To let the different personas represent various nationalities thus cover as many geographical areas as possible.
  • To have persona descriptions that are general and versatile thus cover as many geographical areas as possible. This is mainly done by providing the descriptions with English names

These strategies work within a Western context, but several describe that it is difficult to develop persona descriptions to an Asian market as they lack knowledge on culture and procedures.

Acting as Someone Like Me – personas in participatory innovation

Articleed March 21st, 2012 by Lene Nielsen & filed under Personas (UK)Scenarios (UK).

Article written for the  PIN-C 2012 conference, Melbourne, Australia.

Lene Nielsen

IT University, Copenhagen


Including users in large participatory innovation projects together with professional innovators such as designers, marketing professionals, engineers etc. puts a strain on the user that might not like to be the focus of attention.

With point of departure in two cases, one from business and a student project, the paper illustrates and discusses the use of personas as a mean to get users involved in innovation, address their needs, and be a platform that gives all participants equal involvement.


The persona method is viewed as a way for designers to step into the users’ shoes and understand their everyday- and work life, a creative way of injecting accurate information about real users into product development (Pruitt and Adlin 2006). In this paper I present a novel way of involving real users in the innovation process using personas, role-playing, and immersion. Two workshops are described and analysed in an attempt to explain one of the ways in which innovation and user participation can be addressed and oriented towards acting out the future.

The state of personas

Most literature on the persona method originates from IT-systems development (Nielsen 2004, Mulder and Yar 2006, Pruitt and Adlin 2006, Cooper 2007). Here the persona description is used as the foundation for outlining a scenario that investigates the use of an IT-system from the particular persona’s point of view.

The persona descriptions are a tool to get designers to understand users and a mental aid for them to look at problems. In addition the method gives direction to the design process (Cooper et al 2007). Central to the method is the persona description that depicts a unique character with specific details. There is not an unequivocal definition of the persona description and what it is used for; it can be defined by the persona’s goals and the relationship to the product to be designed (Cooper et al. 2007), it can be defined by work-goals and here the description has an exact relation to the data (Grudin and Pruitt 2006), or with data as foundation the method uses the relationship between character and story to create a vivid description of fictitious characters. The vivid description prevents the designer in perceiving the user as a stereotype and at the same time enables identification with the personas through the active engagement in the description (Nielsen 2011).

The purposes of using personas are manifold; the method enables a focused design and is a communication tool that ends discussions. Personas can communicate information from market analysis, user tests and prototypes to all participants in a project (Grudin and Pruitt 2006). The persona description balances between data, knowledge of use and use situations, and fictitious information added to further engagement thus becoming a remedy against automated thinking in the design process (Nielsen 2011).

The scenario

The scenario plays a central part in the persona method, it is in the scenario that design ideas are evoked and tested. Even though scenarios have been around for some time there is no single definition in common use. At the broad level, there seems to be agreement that scenarios are stories.

In the persona method, the persona is the focal point of the scenario and not the IT-system. Here the authors suggest different types of scenarios. Cooper et al. (2007) propose a progression from initial, high-level scenarios to more and more detailed ones with increasing emphasis on the user-product interaction. As a part of this progression, they distinguish between problem scenarios, which are stories about a problem domain, as it exists prior to, and design scenarios that convey a new vision of the situation after technology introduction. Pruitt and Adlin (2006) refer to Quesenbury’s (2006) definition of different types of personas and to scenarios with different levels of detail placed in a continuum between evocative and prescriptive scenarios as well as along the development process. Mulder and Yar (2006) propose only one type of scenario that is an idealistic vision, that describes each persona’s different journeys through a website, the interactions and possibilities the persona is met with, and the choices the persona makes.

Common for the authors the scenarios are evoked by designers stepping into the users’ shoes, an engagement that originates from the persona descriptions.

Two cases of personas for co-design

The workshops described in this paper are based on 10 Steps to Personas (Nielsen 2007). Key to the 10 steps are scenarios, that are stories describing the persona’s interaction with an interface or product. As a story the scenario has a main character, a setting, a goal, it has actions that lead to the goal, and it has obstacles that hinder the way to the goal (Madsen and Nielsen 2009).

The two cases show different instances of users acting as personas. In the first case the use of personas and the involvement of users were created ad hoc to support the wish of the client to include both personas and users in the innovation process. The second case shows an experimental use where a group of students wanted to try the method in a facilitated workshop. The students wanted to capture different attitudes and interactions among various persona descriptions.

The two workshops thus show variations in the use of having users act as personas and have different learning.


Arla Foods a.m.b.a. wanted to innovate within the unknown area of company cafeterias. With the purpose of initiating a user-driven innovation process for product development, the following stages were implemented:

  • scientific data gathering,
  • understanding users and gathering data,
  • data analysis,
  • and an innovation workshop lasting two days.

From the initial data gathering it was found that overall there are only a few different types of company cafeterias: a type where the company pays a subsidy towards the food, they often employ former chefs and the company takes great interest in the employees health and has a health policy. The employees are deducted a monthly fee from their salary to cover their lunches. In other types of company cafeterias, the employees pay for what they eat directly. The company has no health policy and do not subsidy the food. This type of cafeteria often serves industry workers. A third type of cafeteria is a mix of the two.

This segmentation of company cafeterias gave direction to which cafeteria managers we should invite to participate in a dynamic focus group (Halkier 2010). We initiated four focus groups at different types of cafeterias that each had 3 to 4 participants.

From the focus group 8 different themes were extracted and two different types of cafeteria managers were identified. The themes were presented in a 30-minutes documentary film and the manager types in two persona descriptions.

Both the documentary and the persona descriptions were used in a two-day innovation workshop. The workshop participants were canteen managers, concept developers, marketing professionals, and engineers.

The workshop had the following course of events:

  1. Introduction to data.
  2. Viewing of the documentary. To get an understanding of the domain, the participants were asked to look for pain-points and note them on small cards.
  3. A game. This was inspired by design games (Brandt 2006) and used the cards with pain points. The game enabled the participant to discuss and align their understanding of the different workflows in the cafeterias and variances in attitudes towards food among the cafeteria managers.
  4. Presentation of findings from the game.
  5. Introduction to the two personas
  6. Introduction to future situation. The situation is phrased as an event that can begin a scenario.
  7. Participatory innovation from personas and with scenarios.
  8. Presentation of ideas
  9. Ranking of ideas and common decisions on which concepts to develop further.

All groups were mixed to cover a broad specter of knowledge and expertise. Even though the canteen managers came on the second day of the workshop, they entered the groups without hesitation and got engaged in the creative process. It was easy for them to relate to the persona descriptions and they felt on equal foot with the designers.

The scenario

The scenarios forced the whole team to imagine a future world and to create future solutions for the persona.  The persona description aligned the discussions and both designers and cafeteria managers had to understand the particular situations and needs for the persona. The designers often asked the cafeteria managers about their daily work processes, about their customers, and their attitude towards food. The managers willingly provided the information and they all concentrated on the persona again.

Often the team spontaneously acted out little scenes in order to try out design ideas from the personas point of view.


Figure 1: The participant explains to the moderator how the persona will act in the given scenario.

The aim of this project was to develop a tool that could support communication between soccer trainers, kids, and parents. Data was gathered from observations and focus groups. From this two personas that had different behaviour and media use were created as well as a number of scenarios that varied in situation and context.

In a workshop setting a mother to a child who engage in sports were asked to go through a set of scenarios for each persona and create novel solutions to the problems presented.

The workshop had the following procedure:

  1. The participant was asked to read the persona description of the first persona Michael – a soccer dad. She commented on the description “I know him, is it a real man?”. Thus implying that the description was credible.
  2. She was then presented with cards that represented different media e.g. Facebook, a low-tech mobile, written lists, a smartphone.
  3. She was asked to read a situation and go through it from the point of view of the persona.
  4. Step 3 was repeated several times.
  5. The participant was handed the second persona description of Mette – a soccer mum – and asked to read through it.
  6. She was again presented with a set of situations and asked to go through them from the persona’s point of view.

The scenarios

The facilitator (F) explains that the participant (P) has to do a kind of role-play.

On the table in front of her are some cards


F: This is a little inspiration of the kind of communication tools available.

The facilitators reads the situation aloud to the participant: It is soccer day and Michael is at home ill with the flu, his wife has to work late and there is no one to take his son Mads to soccer training. Michael knows that Mads is eager to go and will be very unhappy if they cancel. What does he do?

P: I can’t remember what kind of phone he has

F: He has a smart phone

P: He would get hold of his parents (….)

F: What if they were on holiday

P: He would try some of the other children’s parents.

F: How would he do that?

P: He is a net-worker. I think he has their email, I don’t know if Facebook is smart enough for him. But I think he would get their emails from Facebook via his smartphone. Yes that would be it.

F: So he is a friend with some of the other parents?

P: Yes because they have, at least some of them, not those who are followed to soccer by their mum, but those who are followed by their fathers. I think there is a kind of community among them. Even if I don’t know anything about football, I could imagine that. We don’t do football in our family.


As it can be seen above the participant has no problem in coming up with a scenario of how this persona might solve the problem. She uses her knowledge of how gender plays a role among the parents and also who talks and relates to whom.

When the participant had gone through the different situations, she had to go through the same situations for the second persona.

Example 2: transcript of the innovation process for the soccer mum persona. (Author’s translation)

The facilitator acts as a game master who stops the play and gives it new directions. This does not hinder the participant in creating a story-line, she hesitates, but quickly comes up with a new plot.

The participant had no problem in switching between the two personas even though only one resembled her-self. As it can be seen in example 2 she was able to draw on her own behaviour and compared the persona’s behaviour to her own. When she acted as the persona that resembled her-self, she often commented on the likeness, how she herself would react, and her own needs. At other times she used her knowledge of other parents and their preferences and behaviour.


In most literature on co-design users represent and act as them-selves and/or designers act like users. Users are viewed as domain experts and designers as innovation experts. Using personas in co-design sessions seems to have a positive influence on the relationship between users and designers as it aligns their roles to incorporate but user and innovator.  Doing so takes the focus away from the user similar to the use of puppets and masks (Ylirisku and Buur 2007). With personas the user does not need to put her-self on the line.

The moderator

Acting as a persona in a scenario has similarities with role-playing as the character is created before the play is performed and the scenario offers a pre-built world. In the second case the moderator acts as a game master who asks questions to the user. The questions of “what if”, suddenly gives new directions to the scenario. As with role-playing it is easy for the user to step into character and the constraints helps guide the play (Medler 2010).

The situation facilitates the scenario

The two cases have very different procedures; the first case was a group ideation process where most of the time was spent stepping into the user’s shoes and having discussions that lead to solutions. The procedure also included spontaneous acting. The second case had a process that were highly facilitated, a user in focus, and it included a number of role-playing sessions, that focused on reaching a goal that arose from the problems raised in the various situations. Using the presented media, the user created a linear plot – a scenario – that led to the solution.

In both cases the situation helped to get the innovation process started and gave direction to the solutions.

The two cases show how users 1) are able to act as personas and produce innovative and creative solutions both together with professional designers and alone. 2) The descriptions enable designers and users to be aligned, and at the same time support the users to incorporate their experiences and knowledge of the domain into the ideation process. 3) The participants use their understanding of the domain to create stories/scenarios both from the perspective of personas that are similar to them, but also from personas that are unlike themselves, as they are familiar with different behaviours within the given design area.


Thanks to Karsten Laybourn, Kasper J. Sørensen, Katrine L. N. Kristensen, Laust E. W. Axelsen, Line Mulvad for giving me access to their material.


Brandt, E., 2006. Designing Exploratory Design Games: A Framework for Participation in Participatory Design? PDC 2006: Expanding Boundaries in Design. (1) pp.1-10, New York.

Browne, J., Temkin, B. D. and Geller, S., 2008. Design Persona Best Practices From Japan. Examining How Four Organizations Successfully Use Design Personas. Forrester Report, September 16

Cooper, A., Reimann, R. and Cronin, D., 2007. About Face 3: The Essentials of Interaction Design. Indianapolis: Wiley

Grudin, J. and Pruitt, J., 2002. Personas, Participatory Design and Product Development: An infrastructure for Engagement. PDC 2002. Malmoe.

Halkier, B., 2010. Focus groups as social enactments: integrating interaction and content in the analysis of focus group data. Qualitative ResearchFebruary 2010 (10/1) pp.71-89

Madsen S. & Nielsen L., 2009. Using Storytelling to Improve Scenarios. Proceedings of the IADIS International Conference Information Systems, Barcelona, Spain, pp. 25-27

Medler, B. & Magerko, B., 2010. The Implications of Improvisational Acting and Role-Playing on Design Methodologies. CHI 2010: Dance, Dust, and Drama: Designing Design, Atlanta, GA, USA pp. 483-492

Mulder, S. and Yaar Z., 2006 The User Is Always Right: A Practical Guide to Creating and Using Personas for the Web. New Riders Press.

Nielsen, L., 2004. Engaging Personas and Narrative Scenarios. Copenhagen: Samfundslitteratur

Nielsen, L., 2007. Ten Steps to Personas. HCeye.  [accessed 20 September 2011]

Nielsen, L., 2011. Persona – brugerfokuseret design. Aarhus: Aarhus Universitetsforlag.

Pruitt, J. and Adlin T., 2006. The Persona Lifecycle: Keeping People in Mind Throughout Product Design. San Fransisco: Morgan Kaufmann.

Quesenbury, W., 2006. Storytelling and Narrative. In Pruitt, J. and Adlin T., The Personas Lifecycle, pp. 520-555, San Fransisco: Elsevier

Ylirisku S.P. and Buur J., 2007. Designing with Video: Focusing the User-Centred Design Process. London: Springer