UX Power Up: Personas as Roles

In this week’s UX Power Up, Frank covers the not so widely discussed topic of personas as roles. Using personas for UX design goals requires you to think of your users by their role, not their demographic data. Frank provides some tips for how to work with your personas so they are more functional in your user advocacy process. 

Transcript below…

Transcript: Hi, Frank Spillers here, founder of Experience Dynamics and it’s time for this week’s UX Power Up. In today’s topic, I’d like to talk about personas. Now, personas are the latin word for “mask”. What I’d like to tell you about is how personas can be used and thought about as roles, as opposed to people. The general concept of personas is that they are demographic, that they are basically sketches of a customer with things like: their age, their income, gender and a few other criteria. So those are what we call Marketing Personas. The other kind of persona – that is more interesting to me – is what we call Design Personas, and that’s what I want to talk to you about. Design Personas are more psycho-graphic. They are more based on behavior, they are more based on the problems the user is trying to solve, or the hats the user is trying to wear.

This syncs nicely to the latin definition of a persona, which is a mask…. that’s my little mask here. That it’s the mask or the hat the user is trying to wear as they are going thru and solving the problems that they are solving. The important piece here is that how you think of the persona is really really key. A lot of people are fooled by the person, that they start talking about: Bill, or Suzy or Jill, and these “people” are not really people, they are actually just roles. So, Bill and Suzy might be the same actual customer or person, but they may just be switching masks or switching hats as they solve their problems. This is actually not that widely understood, and it can be a little bit tricky as you are going thru, defining your personas. The reason is because we use faces of actual people, and we go “Oh, that’s Tom.” when really, it’s not! It’s really the behavior that that particular mask or hat is doing.

One way that you can clarify this with your personas, is to name them with the actual role in the name, in this case it’s “Tech Spec Tina” – this is for an automotive site. We have another persona, which is “Rate Checker Ray”. Rate Checker Ray is all about the rates. Tech Spec Tina is all about the tech specs. Other personas have other pain points or other motivations, or other problems they are trying to solve, so they adopt different names. This helps us with the language, it helps us use the personas as design vehicles.

Remember, in usability, we’re not really concerned with the Marketing Personas – those are useful, but they don’t really help us with designing experiences. What we need to know is, what problems users are trying to solve, what hat’s they are actually wearing and where those pivot points are, where they are switching hats in order to solve a different problem. When Rate Checker Ray goes into financial investor mode, then Rate Checker Ray becomes “Financial Fiona” for example. Again, it could be the same person just switching hats.

Think about personas as roles, and your life will be a lot easier, and your personas will be a lot more useful as design vehicles as you create your user experiences. That’s it for this week, thanks a lot and we’ll see you next time.

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