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Personas: A hack used by professionals to imagine people they don’t know well

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Shooting in the dark ~ I don’t know these people!

I want you to imagine any situation in which you are preparing to work with someone who you don’t know well.

  • You are going to hire someone and you must write an advert
  • You are going for a job interview
  • You are taking a new class
  • You are going to a party and your host is relying on you to get the party going
  • You are scouting for new business and you are all but cold calling


In any of the situations, it really helps to write a persona.

We write down a little story of where the person has come from and where they are going to.  How many children do they have?  Who is their partner? What is their immediate concern?  What are the values that have guided their choice in the past?

Sometimes the persona just won’t flow

Once we start writing, sometimes we realize that our expectations don’t hang together.  We can’t make the story “come together.”

That  is the real core of our sense that we don’t ‘know’ people.  We must be able to imagine a coherent story to be comfortable.

Use a character builder

When I get stuck, I find a “character builder” online, fill out the questionnaires, and resolve in my mind all the little details I expect about the person.

The version that I use suggests a Myers-Briggs profile.   It is very good for settling on one persona.

Once I have a coherent picture of someone, then I can imagine what I am going to love about them, and also what I am not going to like.

Here is the key to resolving my ‘stuckness.’  What will I not like about the person? Where must my approach change to be reasonable?

Once I’ve got past this point, I can complete the scenario and write a few more, including scenarios of the person in the context of home, play and work.  Who else will be there and what are their personas?

Useful hack

I hope that’s useful: Use a character builder to help your write personas to understand people you don’t know well

Published in Hacks


  1. Also consider there are three types of personas: Actual, factual, and fictional. You want to pick one appropriate to the conditions at hand.

    The classic condition for creating a “fictional” persona is the typical IT project where all the real control for designing a good solution have been removed: A deadline/budget has been established that doesn’t allow for the real work to happen, so people are forced to “make shit up” (people might think this is easier, but for conscientious people it’s WAY more difficult). So you leverage what facts you do have or shape them to all the assumptions of the fictitious design constraints that have already been baked into the solution to meet the deadline/budget. You may even do some research to find interesting potential motivators for the individuals. In one case were I was making up a persona for a proposal, I researched the history of airline flight attendants and extrapolated facts like in 10 years their salaries had grown less that 1/10 of a percent — suggesting they didn’t do the job for the money.

    A “factual” persona is one that is a composite of actual evidences of individuals who are or will be involved in the resulting solution.

    An “actual” persona is a real example of a single individual (named, or unnamed) who has been deemed to be representative of a particular relationship genre.

  2. This is a very useful expansion of my post. Thank you. Anyone looking up personas will find it really helpful.

    I add another technique too. I try to write the story of the people. Who are they? Where have they come from? Where are they going? When I see them in motion, I understand them better. I know a games company that always writes a persona as a family. What is mum doing right now? What is dad doing? etc. The point being, I think, that context also matters.

    Thanks for the comment and good to meet you!

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