Personae in Action

A Brief Overview of What They Are, How to Make Them, and How to Use Them

Personas, as explained by Cooper (2004), allow system designers to design for single person. In doing so, he removed the somewhat nebulous concept of user and replaced it with a concrete profile, not of a real person, but if a hypothetical yet specific representation of an individual known as a persona. Information available in personas includes things like age, skill level, etc. Writeups of personas will include specific and detailed information about a hypothetical person, including elements such as photos. The primary persona will be the one for whom the system is largely designed, other personas can help support secondary uses.

Cooper (2004) goes on to layout guidelines for “improv[ing] the quality of interaction, either with a human or a high tech, software-based product rich in cognitive friction” (p. 162). They are the following: interested in the user; deferential to the user; forthcoming; having common sense; anticipating user needs; responsive; taciturn about personal problems; well-informed; perceptive; self-confident; focused; fudgable; giving instant gratification; trustworthy.

Creating Personas

Persona are based on data, not created based on assumptions (Brigham, 2013). Research is then distilled to encapsulate a multi-dimensional architype. “Personas are defined by their needs and goals. These include their personal goals as well as their goals for the system” (Randolph, 2004, p. 109). “The most useful personas are simple, focused on unique information to help distinguish among them” (Guenther, 2006, p. 51). To build personae, some kind of data (Guenther, 2006) or an understanding of an ideal fictitious user (e.g., Cooper, 2004) is necessary. Cooper and Reimann, as cited in Al-Shboul and Abrizah (2014), state “In the development of the persona, interviews with and/or observations of users are essential, because they uncover the attitudes and behaviours of individuals that might not be evident in other data (Cooper & Reimann, 2003 as cited in Al-Shboul, & Abrizah, 2014). Al-Shboul and Abrizah (2014) utilize an interview-based methodology (of 26 subjects) as the basis for the creation of four personae, each of which represents between five and nine interviewees. Zohoorian-Fooladi and Abrizah. (2014) likewise interviewed 26 academic librarians about their social media skills and created four personae representing between two and 13 librarians interviewed.

Personas in Practice

To support usability and interaction design in library products and services, the establishment of personas has been consistently used. For example, before creating their first draft of the video game metadata best practices document, Lee, Tennis, Clarke, and Carpenter (2013) developed personas that were used as the basis for the choice of the elements that would be used in the metadata schema they were creating for an online database of video games.


Al-Shboul, M. K., & Abrizah, A. (2014). Information needs: Developing personas of humanities scholars. The Journal of Academic Librarianship, 40(5), 500–509.

Brigham, T. J. (2013). Personas: Stepping into the shoes of the library user. Medical Reference Services Quarterly, 32(4), 443-450.

Cooper, A. (2004). The inmates are running the asylum: Why high tech products drive us crazy and how to restore the sanity. Indianapolis, Indiana: Sams Publishing.

Guenther, K. (2006). Developing personas to understand user needs. Online, 49-51.

Lee, J. H., Tennis, J. T., Clarke, R. I., & Carpenter, M. (2013). Developing a video game metadata schema for the Seattle Interactive Media Museum. International Journal on Digital Libraries, 13(2), 105-117.

Randolph, G. (2004). Use-cases and personas: a case study in light-weight user interaction design for small development projects. Informing Science: International Journal of an Emerging Transdiscipline, 7, 105–116.

Zohoorian-Fooladi, N., & Abrizah, A. (2014). Personafying academic librarians’ social media presence. Malaysian Journal of Library and Information Science, 19(3), 13–26.