Why Are Personas Used During the Design Thinking Process?

Jack O'Donoghue Avatar


To create a successful product, you need a deep understanding of your customer’s needs.

This makes personas a critical component of the Design Thinking and UX design process.

Personas help designers, product teams, entrepreneurs, and innovators to:

  1. Create a shared understanding of the end users’ goals.
  2. Begin ideation with a focus on specific user goals.
  3. Prioritize ideas and make decisions.
  4. Critique and evaluate your designs.
  5. Decide who to recruit for user research and testing.

They help you focus on creating solutions that have valid use cases for specific target audiences.

By understanding the purpose of personas and how they’re used, you can leverage this powerful tool to create meaningful experiences for your users.

In this article, we’ll examine why personas are so important throughout the design process and why they remain essential tools for innovation.

Design Thinking persona template

What Are Personas?

A user persona is a document describing a user segment’s needs, behaviors, and demographic information.

They provide a deeper understanding of user behavior and needs so that we can make better human centered decisions during a design thinking project. 

Personas represent an archetype of a user segment based on user research data.

They are created by researching user demographics and behavior, such as their interests, habits, goals, challenges, motivations, and pain points. 

Why Are User Personas Important?

Personas help you understand a target user’s goals, needs, motivations, habits, and pain points in more depth.

User personas are essential for design thinking because they provide insights into target users beyond basic demographics.

By incorporating personas into the design process, designers can better understand how users interact with their products to create meaningful experiences that align with target user expectations.

Another reason personas are so important in design thinking is because they can help reduce cognitive biases by authentically representing target users.

Personas remind designers what the core user needs are so that they can be considered when making design decisions.

Personas also provide an effective communication tool throughout the design process by creating a shared language between stakeholders, developers, marketers, and other partners involved in the product design project.

By using personas as reference points throughout the process, all team members can effectively work together to deliver solutions that meet target user expectations while remaining on track with business objectives.

Characteristics of a Good Persona

A good user persona should be detailed, realistic, and relatable. 

It should represent a real user group and describe actual user needs based on evidence.

It should provide clear insights into who the users are, their motivations, goals, and needs, and how they interact with the product.

Additionally, user personas should be based on real data obtained through in-depth user research, interviews, surveys, and other feedback methods.

  1. A good user persona should be based on user research and data.
  2. A good user persona should be detailed and specific.
  3. A good user persona should be realistic and represent a real person.
  4. A good user persona should be actionable and help guide the product team.

A good user persona should be detailed, realistic, and relatable. 

How to Use Personas in Design Thinking?

Design thinking personas can empower team members to better understand their end users and design more effective solutions. They are the lynchpin of any human centered design process.

Personas help create a shared understanding of the most important goals of the end user, which then helps determine who should be recruited for user research and testing.

This gives teams a solid base to start ideation by focusing on those specific user goals. Additionally, personas allow teams to prioritize their ideas and decide on what best meets their users’ needs.

Finally, personas provide a valuable tool for critiquing and evaluating concepts during all stages of product development, ensuring a final design is user-friendly and meets business objectives.

1. Create a shared understanding of the end users’ goals

A user persona – along with an empathy map and customer journey map – helps to align the user experience design and product management team around a shared vision.

It helps them to understand the user needs of the primary persona and what complex problems need to be solved.

A persona should provide all of the necessary context that helps teams to create an innovative solution.

2. Decide who to recruit for user research and testing.

Each persona group should help you develop criteria for who you need to recruit for research. You can also use this information later in the process when you need to recruit participants for user testing when you start getting feedback on your prototype.

3. Begin ideation with a focus on specific user goals

A good user persona can be an excellent starting point for ideation. You can use the different insights contained in the persona as inspiration to generate and develop a creative solution that aligns with a real person’s user story, goals, and motivations.

4. Prioritize ideas and make decisions

Whenever you need to make a design decision, you can refer back to the persona to ensure you’re basing your decisions on evidence. Whenever you encounter a tricky scenario or a difference in opinions.

You should create personas during the define phase of the design thinking framework

At What Stage Are Personas Used in the Design Process?

User personas are used at all stages of design thinking, from initial research to design and development.

Personas provide a valuable tool for understanding user needs and expectations, helping teams design effective solutions that meet end-user goals.

At the start of the design process, personas can help define the design problem by providing insights into target users and their expectations.

Personas should always be based on relevant data obtained through in-depth user research to ensure they are as accurate as possible.

By understanding user needs early on, teams can determine which features should be included in their design to meet those needs.

During the design phase, personas can be used to focus design efforts on delivering meaningful experiences for users. Designers should use their understanding of target users to develop design solutions that match their needs and preferences. This helps ensure designs remain relevant throughout the design process and align with user expectations at all stages.

Personas also play an essential role during development as they can help developers better understand how users interact with products.

Personas provide designers with a clear set of guidelines for creating features that meet user demands while meeting business objectives.

Finally, personas are essential during the testing stage as they allow testers to identify potential issues or feature requests that may have been overlooked during the design and development phases.

By using personas as reference points when testing functionality, teams can make certain products work effectively for all target users before launching them in the market.

Different Types of Design Thinking Personas

The three main categories of user personas are proto-personas, qualitative, and quantitative personas.

Each has pros and cons, but the best personas will be quantitative and qualitative, as this will paint the most complete picture of your customers and their experiences.

1. Proto-personas

Proto-personas are lightweight, lean personas based on the design team’s existing knowledge or the assumptions and expertise already within the group. They’re a great way to start a project because they can help you to understand what you already know and where the knowledge gaps are.

As you progress through your design project, you can start to build on the proto-personas as you collect real evidence from your research. It’s important to acknowledge that since proto-personas contain some assumptions and unverified data points, any decisions made using them as a basis should be done so with caution.

2. Qualitative personas

A qualitative persona is a detailed, data-driven representation of the end user. Unlike proto-personas, which are based on the assumptions and expertise of the design team, qualitative personas use a combination of different qualitative data points from user research to accurately reflect an individual’s behaviors, needs, goals, attitudes, and motivations.

3. Statistical personas

A statistical – or quantitative – persona is a type of user persona that uses data gathered from quantitative research methods such as surveys, analytics, and market research to determine the demographic attributes (such as age, gender, occupation, etc.) of the target audience.

4. Hybrid personas

The best personas will be a combination of qualitative and quantitative data points supporting each other to give a complete picture of the customer’s needs, motivations, attitudes, and behaviors.

Steps to Creating User Personas With User Research

The first step is to gather data about your target users. This data can come from in-depth interviews, surveys, focus groups, or any other form of qualitative research.

Once you have this data, it’s crucial to analyze it and identify common user themes. The next step is to create a persona template that includes the following information: name, age, gender, job title, interests/hobbies, pain points, and needs/requirements.

Once the template is filled out, you can populate it with data from your research findings. This process should be repeated until you have several personas that represent your target audience accurately.

The first step is to gather data about your target users. This data can come from in-depth interviews, surveys, focus groups, or any other form of qualitative research.

Remember to keep them up-to-date as your design and development processes progress, so they always reflect the latest insights into your users’ behaviors and preferences.

1. Decide on which segment you want to learn more about

If you’re starting from scratch, you’ll need to first figure out which customer segment you want to learn more about. At this stage, you may know very little, so making some assumptions about who might benefit from or use your product is a good starting point.

2. Brainstorm questions that you can ask customers

Start by brainstorming a list of questions that will help you get the answers you need about your audience. Questions should help you clarify your customer segment’s needs, behaviors, and expectations. Some common questions you can ask people are:

  1. Tell me about a recent experience you had with this product?
  2. What was it you wanted to achieve?
  3. Why was this important to you?
  4. Did it meet your expectations?

The answers to these questions can then be used to fill out a persona template.

3. Create surveys and conduct interviews to collect data

Now that you know who you want to speak to and what you want to ask them, you can create surveys and book participants for interviews. 

The interviews will give you qualitative information that helps you to get a deep understanding of your users’ personal experiences.

The survey can help you to get an idea of customer preferences and behaviors and to quantify your findings from the interviews.

4. Analyze the findings to find common themes and patterns

Once you’ve finished your interviews and collected your survey responses. We need to collate all of the data, tag it so that we know where it came from, then go through an affinity mapping exercise to organize the data, make sense of it and find themes and patterns.

5. Organize your insights into a persona template

You need to take your findings and insights and map them to a persona template. By organizing your insights into motivational, attitudinal, and demographic information, you can paint a complete picture of who it is you’re designing for.

Challenges With User Personas and How to Overcome Them

One common challenge with using user personas is that when they are based on assumptions and stereotypes, they can’t be used with much confidence. 

Additionally, persona development can be time-consuming and expensive. 

Finally, ensuring that all team members interpret the persona in the same way when making design decisions can take time and effort. 

There are several ways to overcome the challenges associated with using user personas. 

First, it is crucial to ensure that persona development is based on solid data rather than assumptions or stereotypes. 

Second, persona development should be ongoing rather than a one-time effort. 

Finally, all team members should be trained to use personas in the design process.


Unlocking the potential of your product means understanding target users, which is why personas are essential to Design Thinking and UX design. 

They can guide teams in creating shared goals focusing on specific user needs and aiding decision-making processes around what features to prioritize or evaluate. 

By mapping out these unique individuals, you’ll have an insightful approach to crafting successful experiences for all involved.

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Jack O'Donoghue Avatar