Tool Share: Personas

In anticipation of our upcoming workshop, Facilitating Design Thinking, a few members of our team will be sharing their favorite tools and how to go about using them. So far, TDG team members Jane Garcia Buhks and Katie Duffié have kicked things off with the first 2 tools (Empathy Interviews and Love + Break-Up Letters). Next up? Personas.

When I was first introduced to this TDG tool sharing series, I knew pretty quickly that I was going to be selecting Personas. Personas, for me, are one of the most effective tools for helping you to keep your users top of mind, advocating for their needs and aligning your team in the process.

In all of our in-house trainings and public workshops we promote this idea of starting with empathy by going out and seeing firsthand what customers are experiencing. Even at The Design Gym, we get out of the office and conduct user research so that we may better understand what our workshop attendees and clients need to help them with the challenges they face in the workplace.

Recently, I’ve been collaborating with my colleague Jane Garcia Buhks to conduct some in-person user research. We’ve just done our fifteenth curiosity interview and we’re getting close to moving onto the next phase of our consumer ethnography study, where we’ll be using personas to capture what we’ve learned.

Here’s a breakdown of what they are and how to use them.

The Power of Personas

Personas are widely used by designers and user researchers, but this tool can also be used in business strategy, engineering, marketing and computer science to help teams align on how their customer’s experience needs improving. Like most tools and techniques in design thinking, it also has held different names such as user archetypes or composite character profiles, but on a basic level, they all mean the same thing: a curated set of information and insights on the people you’re learning about and designing for. It should include a photo, a handful of demographics, and qualitative details such as their goals, needs, preferences, lifestyle, motivations, behaviors, etc.


30-60 minutes

1 Facilitator and collaborators

Blank paper, Flip charts, markers, or a digital template

When to Use Personas

Personas can serve as a container for capturing research data and as an output of your work synthesizing the data. They are great to pair with Journey Maps and for keeping the customer top of mind at all times.

Consider this tool when you need to:

  • Remind yourself, your team, and stakeholders of the customer
  • Share research findings to stakeholders
  • Better understand a new customer segment


1. Define your categories

Every persona can, and should, have different categories of information depending on the type of organization, project, etc. Some teams might be more interested in emotions and feelings while others care more about the environment and relationships—it’s all good! As a team, define 3-5 categories of qualitative information that you want to include to serve as your baseline framework.

2. Pictures or it didn’t happen!

Be sure to include at least one photo of the customer, and more if you can. Seeing faces and people in action helps build empathy better than just words can.

Bonus! We’ve seen some teams create short video personas that feel like mini-documentaries. These can be circulated widely and allow for the customer’s voice, emotions, and actions to be seen directly.

3. Final Person Production

Hand-drawn personas are great in workshop settings, but don’t have the longest life span. Take the final workshop output and create a digital or more polished version that can be put into decks, printed, and hung up on the walls.

Examples of Personas

Courtesy of Vida Mia Garcia, Tom Maiorana and The Rick and Susan Sontag Center for Collaborative Creativity.

Like most things, practice makes perfect. Want to get your hands dirty and learn how to lead your own team in developing Personas? Come join us at our workshop,Facilitating Design Thinking: Understanding Customer Behavior, on May 16 + 17.

Timothy Moore
[email protected]
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