• Creating Personas Workshop Tool

    Personas are fictitious characters created to embody specific key characteristics of target user groups. Personas allows you to package user research data into sample users that can, in turn, be used to develop use cases for your learning space and to design services.

    Personas offer many benefits for those undertaking design projects, including:

    • Making assumptions and knowledge about users explicit and thereby giving the team a common language with which to talk meaningfully about users
    • Allowing the project team to focus on and design for a small set of specific users who are different than the team members
    • Building empathy towards users in a way that reports of qualitative and quantitative data cannot accomplish (Adlin, T., & Pruitt, J. (2010). The essential persona lifecycle. San Francisco, CA: Morgan Kaufmann. p. 1)

    The goal of the persona creation process is to move the team from standard ways of categorizing users to embodiments of key traits that are built around needs, motivations, and preferences. The following process is based on Tamara Adlin and John Pruitt’s process outlined in The Essential Persona Lifecycle. It is a condensation and combination of their “ad hoc personas” and “data-driven personas” creation processes.

    Before the Workshop


    • The facilitator of the group should be very familiar with the user research data.
    • Review materials for the workshop and read up on the persona creation process.

    Create a Team

    • Gather a small team to create the personas. The team should include staff who helped conduct user research, but may include other key stakeholders who engage with target user groups. Keep the team small.
    • Team members should review existing user research, but should also be encouraged to incorporate their personal experience engaging with target user groups into the persona creation work.

    The Persona Development Workshop

    Time: 2-4 hours per broad category for personas (ex. undergraduates, graduate students, faculty)

    What you need: whiteboards or flipcharts, sticky notes (possibly different colors), pens, notepads, camera to document work during and at the conclusion of the workshop, snacks


    • Facilitator explains the goals of the session and outlines the process

    Step One: Identifying assumptions about users

    • The facilitator asks the team members to identify ways the spaces’ users are typically categorized. Document the categories on a whiteboard or flipchart. For example, faculty might be categorized as follows: primarily research, primarily teaching, half research/half teaching, adjunct, emeritus, technology adopters, technology luddites, administrative, etc. Brainstorming these categories reveals the team members’ assumptions about users and gives a starting place for deconstructing stereotypes.

    Step Two: Moving from assumptions of user categories to user goals

    • Ask the team members to brainstorm user goals and list them individually on sticky notes. User goals are descriptions of what he or she wants or needs to do. It can be useful to begin each user goal statement with either “I want” or “I need.” Encourage participants to use these two phrases as needed, but not to focus on if there are distinctions between “needs” and “wants.” For this step the team members should focus on what they learned from the user research as well as their own experiences working with users. Example user goals:
      • “I want to find a quiet place to work away from my roommates”
      • “I need to book a room to study with my project team.”
    • After brainstorming, team members place their sticky notes under the relevant headings of the stereotypical user categories outlined in Step One.
    • If an “I want” or “I need” statement can be filed under more than one user category, duplicate the statement so it is represented under all relevant groups.
    • There will likely be patterns in the sticky notes. As a group, look through the sticky notes and cluster them as appropriate to expose themes. See the Learning Space Toolkit’s Persona Development Workshop PowerPoint for an illustration of this process.

    Step Three: Forming skeletons

    • As a team discuss the major themes of “needs” and “wants” that surfaced through the sticky note exercise.
    • Compile a list of major themes that surfaced around user needs and wants. You might even give these thematic groups nicknames at this point (ex. “Quiet studiers,” “Social learners,” etc.).
    • Discuss each group and take notes on their most important needs, goals, and preferences.  It may be possible to combine groups. The groups should transcend the typical descriptions that are used to different user populations.
    • Outline a skeleton for the group. A skeleton is very brief and can be made up of a bulleted list.
      • Example skeleton: Undergrad who uses the library to get away from dorm to study in quiet spaces, needs to “camp out,” needs to spread stuff out and stay for awhile, brings own laptop to study, seeks out food and drink to take to his/her study spot.
    • Aim for three to five skeletons, each representing important clusters of needs, goals, and preferences. If you have many skeletons, determine which are primary and secondary as users of your spaces and services.

    After the Persona Development Workshop

    Step Four: Forming skeletons into personas

    It is more efficient for a couple of people to collaborate closely on transforming the skeletons into personas rather than involving a larger group. The persona creators can then share drafts with the full team.

    • Assign a name to each skeleton. Often the persona is given an alliterative or symbolic name (ex. “David Dwell,” “Carrie Newby”)
    • Create a quote that sums the user’s primary needs. You might use or adapt quotes taken from user research data.
    • Write up short paragraphs summarizing key aspects of the persona’s life experience, space and technology needs, motivations, and typical work patterns.

    The categories for these summaries vary by the research needs for your learning space design project. Sample categories that might be useful for learning space design might be:

    • Kinds of academic work the persona does routinely
    • How and when the persona uses campus
    • How the persona works with others
    • Technologies used by the persona and his/her level of comfort
    • Study space preferences
    • Gaps the persona perceives in campus resources
    • Outline demographic and personal data to give the persona deeper personality. Sample demographic and personal data for a student:
      • Age
      • Academic year, major
      • Hometown
      • Where he/she lives
      • Hobbies, likes/dislikes
    • Associate a picture with the persona. A photo brings the persona to life! You can find Creative Commons copyright licensed photos at Flickr and Creative Commons.

    Step Five: Check the personas against data

    • Share the draft personas with the full team involved in the early stages of the personas creation.
    • Ask for feedback and agreement that the personas encapsulate the major themes that arose in the data.
    • Re-read over user data to affirm that the major themes are present in the persona descriptions.

    Step Six: Present the personas

    • Once the personas are finalized, introduce the personas to relevant stakeholders and allow them to ask questions.
    • To facilitate communication about the personas, you may want to print the persona profiles as posters or create a PowerPoint presentation that can be used to introduce them.