The Inmates Are Running the Asylum, published in 1998, introduced the use of personas as a practical interaction design tool. Based on the single-chapter discussion in that book, personas rapidly gained popularity in the software industry due to their unusual power and effectiveness. (from The Origin of Personas)

The Inmates Are Running the Asylum argues that, despite appearances, business executives are simply not the ones in control of the high-tech industry. They have inadvertently put programmers and engineers in charge, leading to products and processes that waste huge amounts of money, squander customer loyalty, and erode competitive advantage. They have let the inmates run the asylum. Alan Cooper offers a provocative, insightful, and entertaining explanation of how talented people continuously design bad software-based products. More importantly, he uses his own work with companies big and small to show how to harness those talents to create products that will both thrill their users and grow the bottom line. (Introduction of book The Inmates Are Running the Asylum: Why High-Tech Products Drive Us Crazy and How to Restore the Sanity, by Alan Cooper, SAMS; ISBN:0-67231-649-8

Example Persona for Illustration
Ann persona 
Ann is 41 years old and works in the marketing department of a mid size high tech company in San Francisco as an administrative assistant. Many coworkers ask Ann for advice as she is with the company for 7 years and she always knows the answer to difficult questions. Ann likes sharing her knowledge with the younger employees, as it makes her feel a valued part of the team. She has a "just do it" personality, she likes to confront and solve problems. Ann does not consider herself a technical person, although she has learned over time some of the advanced features of Word and Excel.

Ann heared that the Engineering department is using TWiki as a collaboration platform already for 2 years. Her boss told her that the marketing department is going to try it out and asked her to sign up for the next training class. She is curious to learn about this new system, and is wondering if she can cope with it. She is also a bit worried that she might not understand the technical details on using it, and that it might force her to work differently.

Ann is the mother of two teen-aged boys. In her free time, Ann likes to jog with her dog in the Golden Gate park.

Personas are not real persons, but derived from multiple persons:

Rather than designing for all people or for averages, the Cooper approach suggests that designers focus on the unique goals of a specific person to develop a product that satisfies the needs of many users. A persona is a profile of a typical user; it is a description of an archetypal user synthesized from a series of interviews with real people and includes a name, a social history, and a set of goals that drive the design of the product or web site.

Personas should be unique and as diverse as possible:

Personas represent behavior patterns, not job descriptions A good persona description is not a list of tasks or duties; it's a narrative that describes the flow of someone's day, as well as their skills, attitudes, environment, and goals. A persona answers critical questions that a job description or task list doesn't, such as: Which pieces of information are required at what points in the day? Do users focus on one thing at a time, carrying it through to completion, or are there a lot of interruptions? Why are they using this product in the first place?

Alan Cooper presses to focus on the goals of a persona, not on the tasks. Some goals can be reached with the software or website, some perhaps not.

There are several types of goals:
  • End goals - goals that the persona wants to accomplish at the end of the day or week. These can be formulated by real-life persons, or derived by looking at function profiles, power structures, tasks analysis.
  • Experience goals - these are almost universal: don't feel stupid, feel in control, don't get distracted.
  • Life goals - long time desires and motivations, like: be an expert, feel acknowledged or respected, earn lots of money.

-- Contributors: PeterThoeny, ArthurClemens


I have been using personas before on a large commercial software project. It made a difference, especially to prioritize features and to enhance usability by visualizing different use cases.

TWikiCommunity members are by definition TWiki administrators, developers and also users. That is, it covers just part of the stakeholders of a TWiki deployment. In particular it typically does not include the decision makers for introducing new enterprise tools. I think it would help the community if we introduce personas to illustrate the different stakeholders, such as TWiki administrators, entry level users, power users, application programmer, non-technical users, managers, IT directors, and possibly others.

-- PeterThoeny - 08 Feb 2006

Moved from BackToCodev:

The Personas I'm targeting are very specific: teachers, mentors (who are Harvard college students but are serving in a different capacity in this program), and students in the program.

The TWiki app will be an umbrella under which different webs will serve very different purposes:
  • traditional wiki webs
  • a structured and workflow-controlled feedback system, wherein mentors can write feedback about or to students which will be under workflow control until a teacher "releases" the feedback for the student to see (ACL-override necesary here)
  • a blog web
  • a creative writing web, wherein the original author has change access but other students can comment
  • a photography web, wherein students can post images and other students (and mentors and teachers) can post comments and possibly vote
  • a teacher-only web to develop and discuss curriculum
  • whatever else the teachers, most of whom haven't seen any of what I've done, come up with that I can implement.

The results of the meeting I had this week were very gratifying (and scary!). They want my TWiki app to be the central place for everyone to go to, instead of them continuing to use the existing bulletin board and blogging systems.

-- MeredithLesly - 01 Apr 2006

(Looking like) A great new book on creating personas: The Persona Lifecycle : Keeping People in Mind Throughout Product Design

-- ArthurClemens - 16 May 2006

For a concrete example on use of Persona, see WebPageAudience (a discussion and definition of what types of people will stop by at the TWiki hompage).

-- SteffenPoulsen - 24 Jan 2008
Topic revision: r4 - 22 Jan 2009, CarloSchulz
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