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.

Using personas is one of the most common ways to express and summarize who it is you are designing for. This tool can help you advocate for users’ needs and maintain an empathetic mindset while you’re back at the office trying to generate solutions for the people you serve.

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 so that they may take on 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 fiftieth empathy interview and we’re getting close to moving onto the next phase where we’ll be using personas to capture what we’ve learned. It’s good practice for us as we are coming up on the dates of our newest workshop, Facilitating Design Thinking: Understanding Customer Behavior, where we’ll be partnering with Shinola to uncover customer insights.

Here’s a breakdown of what Personas are and how to use them:

What Are 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, direct quotes and qualitative details such as their goals, needs, preferences, lifestyle, motivations, behaviors, etc. 


Personas can serve as a container for capturing research data and as an output of your synthesization of 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


1-2 hours

1 Facilitator and 3-4 collaborators

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


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.

The set of personas we generated most recently at TDG included an arbitrary name with a one-sentence description of this person, 3-4 quotes from our interviews and four sections of qualitative findings like their needs, beliefs, skills and behaviors.

2. Populate the Template

Once you’ve defined the categories that make up your persona template, review the quotes and the insights you developed. Highlight the ones that stood out to your team and then separate them from the rest. Begin moving the separated ones into the various sections of your persona template. If some of the quotes and insights don’t seem like they belong with the others, they might be the fodder you need for a second or third persona.

Start with creating one to three personas. Giving your co-workers too many personas to design for might be overwhelming and unachievable. See that the personas you developed are relevant to the services your organization offers. If you need another persona to back up ideas for a specific service offering, create another persona by reusing some of your data or any leftover data that didn’t get used.

3. Final Persona 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. We used Adobe Illustrator to create our personas but PowerPoint or Word can also work. Make do with the resources you have on hand.

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.

Our Favorite Examples

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

Courtesy Silka Miesnieks of Adobe Design and Airbnb.


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 7 + 8.

Timothy Moore
[email protected]
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